Picture it: Phoenix, AZ. August 1999.
It was during this period that Navy Veteran Monica Helms would create a symbol, a flag to represent her community: the transgender community.
Encouraged by the creator of the bisexual flag, Michael Page, Helms put together a flag comprised of five stripes: two light blue, two pink, and a single, centered white stripe.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Helms would say that the pattern for the flag just “came to her” one morning upon waking. It wasn’t a dream per say but a vision among the first thoughts of the day; in Helms’ words: “you’re starting to think and your mind is starting to fill with images.” From within this parade of pictures, she saw it, the flag, patterned as a play on gendered colors with a stripe for those living outside the binary.
A case of “divine intervention” was what Helms credited with a laugh.
At this point, it is vital to the story of Monica Helms though what most remember will be the symbol she created.
The Story of Monica Helms, Creator & Veteran
Monica Helms was born in 1951 in Sumter, South Carolina and grew up in the sunny state of Arizona. In 1969, she graduated from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970.
From 1970 to 1978, Helms would serve as a nuclear-trained machinist mate on two submarines: the USS Francis Scott Key and the USS Flasher. It was four years into her enlistment that she began dressing as a woman and kept it secret for fear of being kicked out of the Navy. “It was the deepest, darkest secret in my entire life,” she wrote, “I would tell someone that I’d murdered someone before I’d tell someone I cross-dressed.” Her exploration took place while she was based in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1976, Helms was assigned to the San Francisco area where she found the LGBT community and started to come out to more people publicly but kept herself closed off in the military. After eight years of service, she left the Navy to start her life as an activist in 1978.
It would be about 19 years before Helms began her transition in 1997. A year later, she reapplied for membership at the Phoenix chapter of the U.S. Submarines Veterans, Inc. under her name but faced pushback. Eventually, she was able to rejoin as Monica Helms and became one of the first women to join the organization.
The Birth of a Symbol
In August 1999, the Transgender Pride flag was born with its colors: light blue for boys, pink for girls, and the middle white stripe for those transitioning, the gender neutral, or the intersex. In the many years that followed, the flag would encompass more of the community as society progressed and gender became less confined to simply male and female.
Although the Transgender Pride flag was birthed in August 1999, the flag would not make its debut to the world until the following year during Phoenix’s 2000 Pride Parade. The theme that year was “One Heart, One Mind, One Vision, Take Pride, Take Joy, Take Action.”
The Lead Up to Transgender Flag Day
Following its unveiling, Monica Helms’ creation was picked up by the transgender community and was incorporated into the LGBTQ collective, even becoming an emoji on mobile phones.
“It does please me but I am overtaken now, a little,” she said of the flag’s spread across the world over the years, “It’s overwhelming that something I created is being used all over the world.”
As for Helms, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to be close to Washington, D.C., where she worked to advocate for transgender people and Veterans. In 2003, her activism led to the founding of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) where she was president until 2013. TAVA continues to this day as an active Veteran Service Organization for transgender Veterans.
In 2014, Monica Helms decided to donate the original Transgender Pride flag to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., as part of a special LGBTQ collection. That day was August 19, 2014.
Today, Transgender Flag Day serves to commemorate the day the original Transgender Pride flag was added to the Smithsonian’s permanent collection which documents the story of the LGBTQ community in America.
When parted with the Transgender Pride flag, Helms’ was sad but humbled. Humbled that her “baby” was now a part of the nation’s story housed in an institution the will protect and preserve it.
“Our symbol,” Helms said, “is part of Americana. It’s treated as that.”
She currently resides in Atlanta, GA, and has published her memoir, “More Than Just A Flag.”
The SITREP thanks Monica Helms for her contribution to LGBTQ history and the LGBTQ community. The Transgender Pride flag serves as a beacon and symbol for the transgender-plus community worldwide. It also goes without saying that we thank her for her service in the U.S. Navy and out in the world of activism and advocacy.
Monica Helms, Wikipedia
Monica Helms: Creator of the Transgender Flag, VAntage Point, 10 June 2021
Here’s the Meaning Behind the Colors of the Trans Flag, Seventeen, 03 June 2021
The Designer Of The Transgender Flag Is A Navy Veteran, Fast Company, 28 July 2017
‘Divine Intervention’ Helped Monica Helms Create The Transgender Pride Flag, The Daily Beast, 30 June 2017
The History of the Transgender Flag, Point of Pride, 23 April 2015
A Proud Day at American History Museum as LGBT Artifacts Enter the Collections, Smithsonian Magazine, 19 August 2014