Monica Helms never thought her simple sketch would turn into a worldwide symbol of inclusivity in the trans community.
Helms, who is the creator of the Transgender Flag and is serving as a grand marshal in this year’s WorldPride March in New York, remembered back to a 1999 conversation she had with Michael Page, who had just created the Bisexual Flag in 1998.
“He and I were talking and he said, ‘You know, the trans community could use a flag,” Helms, resident of Marietta, Georgia, recalled during an interview with Gay City News. “I couldn’t come up with anything. He said to keep it simple because the least amount of stitches, the cheaper it is to make.”
Helms then embarked on a quest to devise an ideal flag to represent the trans community. But that proved to be challenging — What would it look like? Where does one even begin? More than a week passed after that conversation and Helms still had no clue how she would go about creating the flag.
At the two-week mark, though, she woke up one morning and suddenly it came to her — she knew exactly what she wanted.
“I jumped out of bed and went over and started drawing it out,” she said. “It looked pretty good.”
Helms, keeping her conversation with Page in the back of her mind, reached out to those put the Bisexual Flag into production and started working on the process of creating the actual flag. Soon enough, she had the new flag in her hand.
“I took my flag everywhere I went,” she said. “To Prides, to marches, to protests, to Transgender Day of Remembrance, to lobby days.”
That proved to be an effective strategy: Folks started seeing the flag and wanted one of their own. Over the years, it started appearing in different countries and prominent locations — like the Obama White House — and in unusual places — like Antarctica.
“I said, ‘Wow. It’s everywhere,” Helms said.
Several years ago, Helms started searching for museums because she wanted to send her original copy of the flag to a place where it could be held safely. She reached out to the Smithsonian, which coincidentally was launching an LGBTQ wing at the time and told her the flag would be a perfect fit.
“My wife and I went to Washington, DC, and we talked to the person who I donated [the flag] to at the Smithsonian,” Helms said. “She brought us to the back storage and we got to see it again.”
It is clear that the flag is even more popular now than it was even five years ago, and trans issues have grabbed center stage as of late as the Trump administration continues its multi-pronged assault on the lives of LGBTQ people — with the transgender community the most frequent target. Helms, who spent eight years in the military and served on two submarines, especially noted her dismay at Trump’s ban on trans service members in the military.
“Everything they could find to discriminate against trans people, they’ve done it,” she said. “So I’m just waiting for the next election so we can vote him out of office and get back all the things that we lost. WorldPride is just a wonderful way of showing people we’re still here and we still exist and we won’t be erased.”
To that end, Helms is looking forward to serving as grand marshal during what is expected to be among the biggest Pride celebrations ever. Also serving as grand marshals at the march are UK Black Pride founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, the cast of “Pose,” the Trevor Project, and members of the Gay Liberation Front, an LGBTQ group that formed in the immediate aftermath of Stonewall.
“I was totally amazed when I was told,” said Helms, who found out she was named a grand marshal when she received a phone call from a member of the Pride committee.
She isn’t exactly sure what else she is doing during Pride Weekend in New York, but some folks have already lined up an itinerary for her and she said she will “be all over the place, apparently.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
Come Sunday, though, she will be marching prominently — and make no mistake, she’ll have her Trans Flag in hand.