Best Of Custom Ink

The 75 Most Iconic LGBTQ+ T-shirts of All Time

T-shirts connect and bring people together in powerful ways, and they’ve had a profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community and its ongoing pursuit of equal rights. 

We’ve compiled a list of the 75 most iconic LGBTQ+ t-shirts to celebrate National Coming Out Day and commemorate historical moments, trailblazing activists, and cultural movements that ignited change.

Jump to the shirts: 75-51    50-26    25-11    10-1

Creating this list was a collective effort within Custom Ink, which included input and submissions from our Inkers. A special thank you to our Inker Pride Diversity Council members, who helped curate the t-shirts on this list and offered us their valuable insight.

Historically, wearing t-shirts has been a way for LGBTQ+ people to promote their causes, events, campaigns, and identities and to express themselves. They’ve also been used to call out anti-LGBTQ+ figures and organizations and rebuke the opposition. And, of course, they are a symbol of self-acceptance and pride. 

T-shirts have been undeniably crucial to the progression of LGBTQ+ rights and expression because they provide an accessible and visible blank canvas that people can wear anywhere at any time. Especially after the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, people began to realize that screen printing t-shirts was an easy and inexpensive way to broadcast—and organize around—the coming wave of gay liberation. 

By screen printing t-shirts, LGBTQ+ people could raise awareness and incite change, whether protesting outside a court building, attending class, or grocery shopping. When their shirts couldn’t be screen printed (either due to lack of access or discrimination from screen printing shops), people would write on blank shirts with markers or other craft supplies to continue getting their message out. These t-shirts tell their stories of adversity, rebellion, courage, and resilience—no matter the amount of power and resources.

(These shirts are for educational and informational purposes only and are not for sale through Custom Ink.

Please also note that some of the shirts discussed and events mentioned below contain terms that were widely used at the time but that we wouldn’t choose to use today.)

75. Guild by Association: National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Convention 1979

A white t-shirt that reads "Guild by Association: National Lawyers Guild" encircling an illustration of a school of fish about to swallow one large fish.

The National Lawyers Guild is a progressive bar association established in 1937 with a long history of supporting equal rights. Their organization of lawyers, law students, and other legal workers strives to protect the civil rights of many marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community. For example, they were recently involved in a case defending non-violent protesters at a “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston. This shirt is from their San Francisco Convention in 1979 and shows an illustration of a school of fish seemingly about to eat a larger fish—symbolizing the fight for justice against an unjust system.

74. Stand Up & Represent

A white t-shirt that reads "Stand up & Represent: Black, Out and Proud Black Gay Pride Month 2002" in black.

Stand Up and Represent began simply as an idea by two friends. While Atlanta already had a strong Black LGBTQ+ community, Anthony Antoine wanted to organize an event to give them more representation and visibility. On Monday, September 7, 2001, the first Stand Up and Represent march was held during Black Gay Pride Weekend. The march continued for a few more years but eventually went dormant. However, in 2015, Antoine started the march again in response to police brutality, high HIV infection rates among young, Black gay men, and violence against trans women. Despite the march not having returned, it remains an important piece of Black LGBTQ+ history.

73. 45 Years of PFLAG

A white t-shirt that reads "PFLAG 45 years of saving lives. One family at a time." An illustration of 45 linked with a heart in front of a sun is above the text.

After her son, Morty, was beaten while distributing flyers for gay rights in 1972, Jeanne Manford decided that something more needed to be done for the LGBTQ+ community. The next year, she joined her son in the New York Pride march and carried a sign that read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children.” The sign received such a positive response that she decided to create an organization for parents of LGBTQ+ children to come together in support of their children’s rights. Since then, PFLAG has grown to a community of over 200,000 members and supporters with 400 chapters across the United States.

72. New England Transgender Pride Day

A yellow t-shirt that reads "New England Transgender Pride" with "'Remember Stonewall? That was us!'" beneath it. The text is in deep blue and red.

On June 7, 2008, the first New England Transgender Pride Day occurred in Northampton, Massachusetts. Over 1,000 trans and gender non-conforming people and allies gathered at the march led by Grand Marshall Miss Major, an African American trans woman and Stonewall Uprising veteran. The official slogan of the event was “Remember Stonewall? That was us!” and was, of course, printed on t-shirts. Many local and national trans activist organizations attended and delivered speeches. Imani Henry of the International Action Center spoke about trans rights being necessary for the fight for equal rights of all people, not just trans people, which is also why this event has been considered a step forward for the entire LGBTQ+ movement.

71. Leslie Cheung: The “Gor Gor” of Cantopop

A black t-shirt with an illustration of Leslie Cheung that reads "The Brother Gor Gor" and "Leslie."

Born in 1956, Leslie Cheung, known as “Gor Gor,” meaning older brother, was a legendary Cantopop singer and Oscar-nominated actor from Hong Kong. Cheung’s career spanned two decades, leaving an indelible mark on both the music and film industries. His work in films like Farewell My Concubine (1993) and Happy Together (1997) broke new ground for LGBTQ+ cinema. Cheung’s androgynous style and open bisexuality made him an LGBTQ+ icon, and his later works pushed the boundaries of gender and sexual expression. Cheung died tragically in 2003, but his artistic and cultural contributions continue to inspire generations.

70. The Basket and the Bow

A white t-shirt with all-pink text and illustration. It reads, "The Basket & The Bow: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Native Americans." Above the text is an illustration of a basket with two feathers attached and a bow and arrow just behind it.

In 1975, Barbara Cameron (Hunkpapa Lakota) and Randy Burns (Northern Paiute) formed the first Native American LGBTQ+ organization, Gay American Indians (GAI), in San Francisco, now known as Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS). They wanted to create a safe organization for Native gays and lesbians due to the racism they faced from the mainstream LGBTQ+ movement and homophobia from Christianized Natives. In 1987, they joined forces with American Indian Gays and Lesbians (AIGL) from Minneapolis. Combining the organizations proved successful, and they hosted The Basket and the Bow in 1988 to gather Native gays and lesbians in a place that fostered support grounded in Native traditions. The gathering is now known as the International Two-Spirit Gathering and continues to this day in a different location every year.

69. Sisterfire

A purple t-shirt that reads "Sisterfire A 2-day Open Air Festival of Women's Culture"

The year was 1982, and the government had just cut funding for the arts. Amy Horowitz and Bernice Johnson Reagon, the co-founders of Roadwork, a multiracial women’s arts organization, knew they had to do something to keep the mission going. Their solution: a concert fundraiser. Thus, Sisterfire was born. Billed as “an open-air festival of women’s culture” and featuring women and lesbian musicians, the concert focused on intersectionality, accessibility, and celebrating diversity. It provided services like wheelchair access and sign language interpreters, along with free babysitting. The festival ran yearly for nearly a decade and was recently resurrected as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

68. GLAAD “&” Campaign

A white t-shirt with a large sky blue ampersand in the center. The GLAAD logo is printed on the sleeve.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is a media monitoring organization formed in 1985 to protest the homophobic reporting surrounding the sensationalized AIDS coverage of the time. The organization launched its Together campaign in February 2017 at a rally in New York City and used an ampersand printed in light blue as a representation of equality and acceptance. This particular rally was held in support of equality and protest the discriminatory actions being taken by the American government against select groups, including refugees and immigrants. The campaign was quickly adopted by activists and celebrities like Emma Watson, Millie Bobby Brown, Sting, Jay Duplass, and Trace Lysette, and frequently showcased the symbol paired with the hashtag #WeResist.

67. James Dean Speed Queen

A white t-shirt that reads "James Dean Speed Queen" in black text, which takes up the front of the shirt.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was an American television show that premiered in the early 2000s. At the time, it was revolutionary, bringing together five gay men as experts in beauty and culture to perform makeovers. As an early show with central gay characters, it was a huge hit and a cultural phenomenon. Ten years after its end, it was rebooted as simply Queer Eye with a new cast, this time covering more of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. The reboot’s food and wine expert, Antoni Porowski, has been notably open about his sexual fluidity. He used his influential position for queer representation, like wearing this shirt on an episode of the show—a nod to another (rumored to be) sexually fluid icon, James Dean. This shirt is a custom piece by artist James Concannon.

66. Fired Under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

A navy blue shirt that reads, in white text, "Fired under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" with the emblem for the Service Members Legal Defense Network and

The fight for LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military in the United States has a long history, dating as far back as the Revolutionary War. The US military implemented a psychiatric screening process in the 20th century, which indicated being gay as a “disqualifying trait” for service. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was created to be a compromise between gay members of the military and anti-gay policymakers. However, in doing so, gay people were still at risk of being fired for living their lives truthfully, thus making the policy discriminatory. By the end of DADT in 2011, over 13,000 gay members of the military had been discharged under DADT.

65. Gay Asian Pacific Alliance

A white t-shirt with the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance logo. The "A" is a pink triangle. A solid black illustration of Godzilla is standing atop the "G."

This fun t-shirt design is courtesy of the GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance—a group founded to support the identity of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Asian and Pacific Islander community as well as foster and provide positive role models in the community. Established at the Berkeley Pacific Center in 1988, the group has since expanded to become the leader for the queer and transgender community in California’s Bay Area. Through countless concerts, conferences, rallies, and more, GAPA has fought to be a safe space that inspires individuals to express themselves and fight for equity for all.

64. Read My Lips: ABIGALE (The Association of Bisexuals, Gays, and Lesbians)

A white t-shirt with a photo of two men kissing in black and white. Beneath the photo, it reads "Read My Lips" and the logo for "ABIGALE: Association of Bisexuals, Lesbians, and Gays."

LGBTQ+ people living in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1992 needed a safe space to be themselves when they formed The Association of Bisexuals, Gays, and Lesbians (ABIGALE). White people predominantly occupied gay bars and clubs in the city, so local Africans and people of color were often met with racism. Drawing inspiration from other prominent LGBTQ+ rights groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation, ABIGALE became more than just a safe space for people to socialize. Members picketed outside gay clubs that discriminated against people of color to fight for safe spaces. Their t-shirt further exemplifies their bold tactics with a photo of two men kissing and the words “Read My Lips.”

63. “My Son Is Bi… I Don’t Ask Why” / “My Mother Is Straight, but She Don’t Hate”

Two white t-shirts laid out together. One t-shirt reads, "My son is bi... I don't ask why." The other reads, "My mother is straight... but she don't hate."

These shirts are derived from the famous photograph of Michael Szymanski and his mother at the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, where the two participants proudly wore matching shirts that showed off the power of acceptance. Szymanski went on to become a writer and a journalist and is the co-author of The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe, which became the first winner of the Bisexual Literature category of the Lambda Literary Award in 2006. He remains a staunch supporter of bisexual rights and recognition to this day with his work with Still Bisexual.

62. Grant Wahl’s World Cup Pride T-shirt

A black t-shirt showing a circular rainbow with a soccer ball in the center.

When American sports journalist Grant Wahl wore a rainbow soccer ball t-shirt supporting the LGBTQ+ community to a FIFA World Cup game in 2022, he didn’t expect to be detained. Security guards demanded that he remove the shirt (later said to be for his safety from fans), but Wahl refused. In Qatar, homosexuality is socially condemned, and relations between men are punishable by law. The government also does not allow people to campaign for LGBTQ+ rights. Wahl’s experience was not unique, as many fans wearing rainbow clothing or other LGBTQ+-supportive apparel were also refused entry to games. Wahl and others were eventually able to enter wearing their apparel, as the policy seemed to be inconsistently enforced. However, the experience did not discourage people from still showing their support for LGBTQ+ rights.

61. Us Helping Us

A black t-shirt that says "The Brotherhood Washington DC UHU Us Helping Us People Into Living" in white text. Beneath The Brotherhood is a single-line illustration of two African American people.

Founded in 1985, Us Helping Us, People Into Living began its mission of teaching holistic techniques to people living with HIV and AIDS to maintain their health. With a particular focus on Black gay and bisexual men, the organization continued to expand over the next thirty years to include mental health services and awareness campaigns to provide underserved and marginalized groups in the greater Washington, D.C. area with health equity. Through the years, UHU has expanded its focus also to include transgender individuals, Black gay youth, and heterosexual women, and its research efforts continue to support its mission of improving the health and wellness of racial and sexual minorities in the United States.

60. Transgender Nation Washington, D.C.

A white t-shirt that says, in black text, "Transgender Nation" at the top. Beneath it is a black upside-down triangle with the combined female-male symbol. Under the triangle is "Washington, D.C."

Members of the LGBTQ+ activist group Queer Nation founded Transgender Nation in 1992. It is described as the “first explicitly queer, transgender social change group in the United States.” Their t-shirt design contains the inverted triangle, which the LGBTQ+ community reclaimed from its use by Nazis in the Holocaust, and the bigender symbol that combines the traditional male and female symbols. Their use of iconography, the direct statement “Gender oppression affects us all.” and their revolutionary acts have made this an iconic LGBTQ+ t-shirt, despite the organization no longer being active.


A folded black t-shirt with a rainbow and "PTWN" beneath it.

Provincetown’s penchant for artistic expression goes back more than a century, and the idyllic Massachusetts fishing community has served as a haven of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community for decades. This special spot on the tip of Cape Cod inspired artist Tim Convery to create art in his signature “duct-tape aesthetic.” A love for Provincetown is clearly visible amongst the angular lobsters and lighthouses around his store, Tim-Scapes. This iconic shirt combines the gentle curve of the rainbow with the sharp edges of Tim’s special style to create something wholly unique, much like Provincetown itself.

58. The Advocate

A white t-shirt that reads "The Advocate" in black text.

What started as a local newsletter inspired by a police raid in Los Angeles, California, soon became a newspaper and eventually the news magazine The Advocate. As the first nationwide gay American newspaper, The Advocate has been an influential voice for LGBTQ+ news and information for more than fifty years. Beginning with covering local Los Angeles news, police brutality, publicizing political protests, and growing to cover celebrity culture, including key figures in politics and the entertainment industry, the paper has had many forms over the years and has been important in helping queer culture become more mainstream.

57. AIDS Walk ’97

A white t-shirt that reads "AIDS Walk '97. Saturday, May 3, 1997. Sponsored by the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network" in black text. The A's in "AIDS" and "Walk" are red ribbon pins.

This shirt was part of the first AIDS Walk in the Carolinas, which took place in 1997. The Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (now known as RAIN) was formed in 1992 by Reverend Deborah Warren to provide care, compassion, and resources for people living with HIV/AIDS and to reduce fear and stigma around AIDS by educating the public. AIDS Walks have been taking place across the US since 1985 to raise funds and awareness of the disease. AIDS Walk Charlotte has raised over $3.3 million since their first walk in 1997. HIV/AIDS awareness is vital in the South, as the region accounted for 51% of new diagnoses in 2020, and organizations like RAIN continue to support, care for, and educate their communities.

56. Pete Buttigieg for President

A royal blue t-shirt that reads "20 Pete 20.

Pete Buttigieg is a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a veteran who served in Afghanistan. He first gained national attention during the 2020 Democratic Presidential primaries, where he ran a historic campaign as the first openly gay man to win a presidential primary (Iowa). While he ultimately did not secure that nomination, he was nominated by President Biden to serve as the Secretary of Transportation, making him the first openly gay member of a presidential cabinet. At 38, he became the youngest member of Biden’s cabinet as well as the youngest-ever Secretary of Transportation.

55. Deadpool’s Bea Arthur T-shirtA white tank top with a black-and-white photo of Bea Arthur.

Bea Arthur has been a queer icon since her career began in the 1970s, but she was cemented as such thanks to the progressive plots of The Golden Girls, especially concerning LGBTQ+ rights and her staunch support for the movement off-screen. Among Arthur’s fans is the comic book super anti-hero Deadpool, which is subtly referenced in the first Deadpool when Ryan Reynolds spent $10,000 for permission to wear a Bea Arthur tank top in the film. (Per Reynolds, the money was donated to Bea’s favorite charity at the request of her family.) Deadpool has also been celebrated as a rare pansexual superhero—something not often seen in comic books, let alone the Marvel Universe.

54. Glee: Likes Boys

A white t-shirt that reads "Likes Boys" in large black text that takes up the entire front.

The musical television series Glee set in an American high school, premiered in 2009 and notably dealt with homosexuality, bullying, gay marriage, trans issues, and gender identity. Named after—and featuring—the Lady Gaga song “Born This Way,” episode 218 centers on multiple characters’ experiences coming to terms with their sexual identities. The Glee Club members all create shirts with their insecurities written on them. Kurt chooses a shirt that says “Likes Boys” as he’s long been bullied for being gay, and in the episode, we discover that his bully is secretly gay himself.

53. “I’ll Be There!”: National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights 1979

A gray t-shirt that reads, "I'll be there!" above the emblem for the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

On October 14, 1979, the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, at least 75,000 people (LGBTQ+ people and straight allies) gathered for the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Activists began planning the march as early as 1973, but many issues within the group—especially concern about fair representation of women and people of color—stalled any action. Harvey Milk eventually took the helm to continue plans but was assassinated before any of them were realized. After Milk’s murder, organizers came together once again to ensure the march would go on, and it became the first march like it in history.

52. Johannesburg Pride 1990

A white t-shirt that reads "Johannesburg Lesbian & Gay Pride March 1990" in black text superimposed over an upside-down pink triangle and a black illustration of marchers. Beneath the image, it reads "Unity in the Community."

The first Pride march in Africa was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was 1990, and homosexuality was still illegal there, so many marchers disguised themselves with masks or paper bags over their heads. Organized by the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW), more than 800 people came together to protest not only laws against LGBTQ+ individuals but also against the legal racial segregation known as apartheid. GLOW produced shirts for the march bearing the phrase “Unity in the Community” along with an inverted pink triangle, which has been a symbol of gay oppression since World War II when the Nazis forced gay prisoners to wear them.

51. Barriers Were Meant to Be Broken

A white t-shirt that reads "Barriers were meant to be broken" in sky blue text.

Laverne Cox has broken many barriers for trans people through her activism and impressive TV and film career. She rose to fame in 2013 by playing a trans woman in prison for credit card fraud on the series Orange is the New Black. Since then, she has become the first trans person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category and the first trans person to be on the cover of Time and Cosmopolitan magazines, among many other firsts. The United State of Women, a nonprofit organization born out of the Obama Administration’s White House Council on Women and Girls, launched a collaboration with clothing brand Land of Distraction and Cox to create this official t-shirt in support of their 2018 summit.

50. Will & Grace

A gray t-shirt with a color photo of the main cast of Will & Grace with "Will & Grace" printed in the corner.

Will & Grace is a TV sitcom that aired from 1998 to 2006, featuring a gay lawyer, Will, his straight roommate, Grace, and their group of friends in New York City. The show broke ground as one of the first mainstream programs to feature openly gay characters in lead roles, which challenged stereotypes and promoted LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance. It was praised for its humor and heart, and its impact on LGBTQ+ representation in media was significant. The show helped to humanize LGBTQ+ individuals and promote understanding and acceptance in society, paving the way for further LGBTQ+ representation in television and film.

49. The Transexual Menace

A black t-shirt that reads "The Transexual Menace." "The Transexual" is written in a gray all-caps font, while "Menace" is in "Double Feature" font, like it's written in blood. It is meant to resemble the title of "Rocky Horror Picture Show."

The Transexual Menace was founded in 1993 and was one of the first direct-action transgender rights groups. They organized demonstrations and protests at courthouses during trials of anti-transgender crimes, such as the rape and murder of Brandon Teena. Their t-shirt design drew inspiration from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and cheekily referenced the lesbian feminist group Lavender Menace after the lack of trans inclusion at a Pride march in 1994.  Their t-shirts were particularly significant to their cause because they created more visibility for trans people. In the words of activist Riki Wilchins in the book TRANS/gressive, “…most of us thought in terms of binary men and women and wanted very much to fit into one or the other… If you passed, you were safe. But pulling on the t-shirt screwed all of that forever.”

48. Xena: Warrior Princess

A black t-shirt with the logo for Xena: Warrior Princess.

A TV show that aired from 1995 to 2001, Xena: Warrior Princess starred Lucy Lawless as the titular character. The show followed Xena, a former warlord, on her quest for redemption and justice alongside her trusted companion, Gabrielle. Xena’s fierce and independent spirit resonated with many LGBTQ+ viewers, who saw her as a symbol of empowerment and representation, and her relationship with Gabrielle as an unspoken romance. Lawless embraced her role as a gay icon, becoming an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and frequently participating in LGBTQ+ events and charities.

47. Nobody Knows I’m Gay

A black t-shirt that reads "Nobody Knows I'm Gay" in white text.

This shirt’s cheeky expression belies its cultural significance. Skyler Thomas started the mail-order t-shirt company Don’t Panic in 1990 simply as a way to make money. However, by 1994 his witty shirts, such as this one, were so popular that even singer and gay icon Liza Minelli ordered a Don’t Panic shirt. Over just one Los Angeles Gay Pride Festival weekend, Thomas’s “Nobody Knows I’m Gay” shirts became a sensation, and people all over the city searched for them. Although Thomas didn’t expect it, he eventually realized that his shirts were “a symbol of being part of something bigger than ourselves. They tell us it’s OK to be gay. And that feels good.”

46. Harvey Milk for Supervisor

A beige t-shirt that reads "Harvey Milk Supervisor" in blue and red.

Chances are you’ve heard of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. His message of equality and hope for marginalized communities—especially the LGBTQ+ community—has persisted despite his tragic assassination in 1978. As a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Milk sponsored a bill that banned discrimination in public accommodation, housing, and employment based on sexual orientation. He also strongly opposed an initiative that would have mandated any gay public school teachers be fired, which ultimately did not pass thanks in part to Milk’s effective and outspoken campaign against it. Milk has remained a cultural and political icon, and you can still find shirts bearing “Harvey Milk for Supervisor” today.

45. My Gender Is Bigger on the Inside

A blue t-shirt with an illustration of the Tardis from Doctor Who that reads "My Gender is Bigger on the Inside."

Geeks OUT, a nonprofit that “seeks to rally, promote, and empower the queer geek community,” has long been a fixture of the video gaming convention scene (which has for years been on the leading edge of gender and sexuality acceptance). Plus, they host the world’s largest and longest-running queer comic con, New York’s Flame Con. As a volunteer-run nonprofit, the money made through Geeks OUT’s merch line all goes back to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. This shirt combines a love of geek icon Dr. Who and their Tardis (which is bigger on the inside) with a nod to the complexities of gender identity and appearance.

44. Siren Women’s Motorcycle Club

A black t-shirt that reads "Sirens MC New York City" with an illustration of a siren (a mythological creature who is half-bird and half-woman) holding a labrys.

Based in New York City, the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club had its first meeting in a living room in 1986. Now, over 30 years later, their membership includes over 70 cis women, trans-women, and non-binary people. This group is connected by more than just their love of riding; they’re also fiercely passionate about equality and have led NYC’s Gay Pride March every year since 1987. The Sirens emphasize their focus on creating a safe space for a gradient scale of marginalized genders to come and be accepted and are active participants in charitable and community service activities aimed at making NYC a more accepting place for everyone.

43. The Lesbian Avengers

A white t-shirt displaying a bomb with a lit fuse in all black and "The Lesbian Avengers" encircling it.

In 1992, six lesbians—Ana Maria Simo, Anna Maguire, Anne-christine D’Adesky, Marie Honan, Maxine Wolfe, and Sarah Schulman—were frustrated by the lack of diversity in the gay rights movement at the time, particularly its focus on white gay men. As a response, they formed The Lesbian Avengers to raise awareness of lesbian issues. The group became known for its creative approaches to activism. Fire-eating became one of their signature forms of protest and was first used after two gay people were killed when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into their apartment. While the group was active, they created a handbook for newcomers to make their movement more accessible, released 1,000 crickets at Exodus International to protest the anti-LGBTQ+ organization’s use of conversion therapy, and formed the annual Dyke March to empower lesbians across the globe. The Lesbian Avengers have formed at least 60 chapters worldwide and have left a lasting legacy.

42. RENT

A black t-shirt with the logo for Rent: The Musical in gray.

“RENT is about a community celebrating life in the face of death and AIDS at the turn of the century.” – Jonathan Larson

One of the first Broadway shows to feature a diverse cast including queer characters, RENT came along in the early 1990s on the heels of the AIDS epidemic. Dealing with themes like living with HIV, being queer, gender nonconformity, and experiencing poverty, RENT ran for 12 years and more than 5,000 performances, becoming one of the longest-running Broadway productions. Its influence on culture was significant and helped normalize LGBTQ+ life, along with living with HIV and AIDS.

41. Classic ACT UP T-shirt

A white t-shirt with the ACT UP logo, which reads "ACT UP" in white, inside of a black box.

The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed in 1987 as a response to the lack of attention and awareness given to the HIV/AIDS crisis by the government and medical community. The organization’s primary mission focuses on combating the stigmatization and discrimination encountered by people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS—a narrative often reinforced in media portrayals. ACT UP pursues a broad agenda that includes public education on the crisis, advocacy for increased medical research and healthcare accessibility, and the promotion of legislative and public policy changes. As a visual testament to this enduring struggle, the organization’s original t-shirt design has assumed an iconic status within the LGBTQ+ community, underlining the ongoing necessity of activism in the fight to end AIDS.

40. Queer Nation

A black t-shirt with the logo for Queer Nation in white.

Queer Nation was formed in 1990 by four activists from ACT UP in New York City. While the group also fought for LGBTQ+ rights, the group’s mission differed by focusing on eliminating homophobia and increasing LGBTQ+ visibility in the arts and media. They were particularly motivated by the escalation of anti-gay violence and exclusion from public spaces that, while not explicitly labeled as heterosexual spaces, were generally considered heterosexual unless indicated otherwise (e.g., gay bars and gay clubs). Queer Nation used confrontational protest tactics to make its impact, starting with reclaiming the word “queer” in its name as a term of pride, thus subverting its pejorative roots. The logo’s punk rock aesthetic immortalizes the unapologetic and fearless spirit of the group.

39. Versace X Lady Gaga: Born This Way

A white t-shirt that says Born This Way Versace. Born This Way is in a black, handwritten font, and Versace is in a rainbow font.

Lady Gaga has been considered a gay icon since her song “Born This Way” was released in 2011. The song became an anthem, especially for objecting to the idea that a “gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life” is simply a “lifestyle” or an identity that can be willed away. Lady Gaga revealed on the 10th anniversary of the song that she was inspired by Black gay activist Carl Bean’s song “I Was Born This Way.” That same year, Versace partnered with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which supports the wellness and mental health of young people, to create unisex t-shirts and berets. Thirty percent of the proceeds of each item were donated to the foundation.

38. Choose Life

A white t-shirt that reads "Choose Life" in large black text.

George Michael, the late British singer-songwriter and openly gay icon was a fierce advocate for social justice causes, including LGBTQ+ rights and HIV/AIDS charities. In the music video for his band Wham!’s hit song “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” he famously donned a “Choose Life” t-shirt, which was created by artist Katharine Hamnett. Commonly misconstrued, the slogan was not an anti-abortion message, nor was it an anti-bullying, drug, or even an AIDS awareness campaign. The message was inspired by Buddhism, the artist’s website stating, “To choose life is to do no harm—to live a good, meaningful life and change the world for the better.”

37. Gay? Fine by Me.

A pale blue t-shirt that reads "gay? fine by me."

After Duke University was deemed not friendly to “alternative lifestyles” by the Princeton Review in 2003, a group of students came together to show their support of the LGBTQ+ community by distributing shirts around campus bearing the phrase “gay? fine by me.” Within two years, the effort grew so much in popularity that they were able to form a nonprofit and make thousands of shirts available at hundreds of colleges and universities, as well as organizations, businesses, and high schools across the country. The shirts have been used to rally and show support for the LGBTQ+ community and help spark conversation around tolerance and acceptance.

36. Embroidered Pronouns T-shirt

A black t-shirt with "they/them" printed on the left chest area.

This shirt from The Spark is an example of a minimal design with a big social impact. While the text may just be a small embroidered left chest design, it’s obvious enough to let everyone know its wearer’s pronouns. Since a person’s gender isn’t always obvious, the practice of sharing pronouns has grown increasingly common over the past few years and is intended to foster inclusion for people of all genders. Advocates argue that when everyone shares their pronouns (including cisgender people), it helps to normalize the practice.

35. 10th Anniversary of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal

A white t-shirt that reads 10th Anniversary 2011-2021 Don't Ask Don't Tell Justice for Just Being Us. The "n't" parts of "Don't" are crossed out in rainbow scribbles.

From 1994 to 2011, the military had a policy: you didn’t have to be heterosexual to serve, but you couldn’t talk about it. When President Bill Clinton signed the law, it became known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, and don’t harass” phrasing within it. Designed to lift the ban on LGBTQ+ individuals serving in the military, it effectively silenced them. It was finally repealed by Barack Obama in 2011, and the Modern Military Association of America, dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ service members, recently commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the repeal with a shirt stating, “Do ask, do tell.”

34. Lavender Menace

A pink t-shirt that reads "Lavender Menace" in red text.

Formed in 1970, Lavender Menace was a group of lesbian feminists who protested the exclusion of lesbian issues from the women’s rights movement at the time. The term “lavender menace” was reportedly coined in 1969 by Betty Friedan, the president of The National Organization for Women (NOW), who believed that publicly associating with lesbians would threaten the progress of the feminist movement. Lavender has been associated with the LGBTQ+ community since at least the 1930s when gay men in America were said to have a “streak of lavender.” During the McCarthy Era, President Eisenhower also sanctioned an executive order that was meant to purge gay people from the federal government, which was known as the Lavender Scare. A group of lesbian activists took action and protested at the Second Congress to Unite Women in 1970. For the protest, they handed out a manifesto entitled “The Woman-Identified Woman” and made lavender-dyed t-shirts silk-screened with the words “Lavender Menace.” After continued work, NOW officially recognized lesbian rights as “a legitimate concern for feminism.”

33. I Can’t Even March Straight

A white t-shirt that reads I can't even march straight in black text within a black-lined box. Beneath the box reads April 25, 1993 Washington, D.C.

This design from the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993 serves as a reminder that sexual orientation is a core part of what makes us who we are. The 1993 political rally brought together around one million attendees, making it one of the largest protests in American history. Edmund Hall later adapted this particular slogan for his book We Can’t Even March Straight: Homosexuality in the British Armed Forces, which explored the discrimination that homosexuals faced in the United States and British armed forces. At the time of its release in 1995, these were the only two countries in NATO that implemented discriminatory practices and policies toward the LGBTQ+ community. In 2000, changes to British policy allowed out individuals to serve, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 widened the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States armed forces.

32. We’re Here. We’re Queer. Get Used to It.

A black t-shirt that reads "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used to It! Stonewall" on an illustration of a picket sign at a rally.

This powerful chant conquered the streets of New York City in the 1990s. Created by the LGBTQ+ activist organization Queer Nation, the slogan became the rallying cry of gay activists seeking to reclaim the word “queer” and reverse its derogatory nature. Queer Nation set itself apart from the other gay rights organizations of the time by using a more confrontational and direct approach in its fights for equality. Recreated by London-based LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall, this shirt invokes the origins of this popular slogan as a quintessential part of the rallies and protests that paved the way for more LGBTQ+ rights in the early 1990s.

31. Same Love

A rainbow-colored athletic shirt that reads Same Love in black text.

T-shirts sure can cause a stir! In 2021, Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel wore a rainbow-colored t-shirt that read “Same Love” during the national anthem at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Hungary has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, including a ban on same-sex marriage. Earlier that year, the country had passed a ban on education about homosexuality and transgender issues in schools. Although Vettel was reprimanded for wearing the shirt, he said he would do it again, as he was very critical of the country’s recent legislation.

30. Putin in Drag

A black t-shirt with a rainbow flag and an illustration of Vladimir Putin in front wearing drag makeup.

In 2013, a new way of depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged: in a full face of makeup. Created in response to the government banning “gay propaganda,” what has now become known as “Putin in Drag” soon became central imagery in protests across the country, incurring a ban of its own. The Russian government made illegal and punishable by law the depiction of any imagery “implying the supposed nonstandard sexual orientation of the president of the Russian Federation.” There’s debate as to which specific image sparked the ban, as many were removed, but this shirt shows the most famous image and serves as a prime example of one that clearly runs afoul of the ban’s language.

29. Queer and Present Danger

A black long-sleeved t-shirt that reads Queer & Present Danger in purple text and an illustration of the entrance to the Capitol Building with an upside-down pink triangle superimposed on it.

Language describing LGBTQ+ people and the community has evolved, with many words being reclaimed throughout history. When the activist group Queer and Present Danger protested the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 1987 for Bowers v. Hardwick, which essentially criminalized homosexuality, they knew their use of “queer” would turn heads. “Homosexual” was the typical term used in the media, and even “gay” was considered too radical at the time. Queer and Present Danger also superimposed the recently reclaimed pink inverted triangle over a white outline of a courthouse as if to mock the court’s decision to criminalize a community that would never give up on itself.

28. Non-binary

A white t-shirt with red-lined head and arm holes that says Non-Binary in both lined and solid red letters.

Non-binary and gender-nonconforming people sometimes struggle with something many take for granted: easily figuring out which clothes to wear when neither traditional men’s nor women’s clothing is a good fit. In response, companies like The Phluid Project have formed to create gender-free clothing. Target partnered with The Phluid Project in 2021 to make their apparel more accessible for non-binary people. They launched t-shirts like the one above, along with other expressive and joyful gender-free clothing.

27. Legalize Gay. Repeal Prop 8 Now!

A pink t-shirt that reads Legalize Gay with Repeal Prop 8 Now! beneath it in purple text.

This campaign by American Apparel was widely publicized at the time of its launch, partially due to the overt message and the associated ad campaign that displayed queer couples kissing. In 2008, California’s Proposition 8, which legally defined marriage as only between one man and one woman, passed by a narrow margin. Many Americans were shocked, but it didn’t stop those who were against Prop 8 from fighting back. American Apparel declared itself an ally to the LGBTQ+ community and partnered with the Human Rights Campaign. Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional by a Federal Court in 2010, and the shirts became recognizable at a national level.

26. Keith Haring’s Heritage of Pride T-shirt

A white t-shirt with Keith Haring's Heritage of Pride artwork on the front.

Keith Haring’s influence on LGBTQ+ art and history truly knows no bounds. This design was developed in 1987 for Heritage of Pride (HoP), a nonprofit organization that plans and produces New York City Pride Week events every year. Haring designed this shirt around the same time he created designs for ACT UP and National Coming Out Day. Always playful without losing the meaning in his work, Haring depicted LGBTQ+ pride with vibrant dancing figures—each pair is meant to represent gay men and women with interlocking male and female symbols.

25. Freddie Mercury: Flash

A white t-shirt with a red collar and red-lined sleeves that reads Flash in red text.

Freddie Mercury wore this shirt in a photo included on the inner sleeve of the 1980 Flash Gordon soundtrack, as well as in his band’s “Play the Game” music video, which was on a Queen album released that same year. The frontman for the band, which was named in part for its queer connotations, Mercury’s flamboyant stage and music video costumes, including skintight t-shirts like this one, along with being known for having had romantic relationships with both men and women, have helped make him an enduring queer culture icon.

24. Bisexuality: Best of Both Worlds

A gold-yellow t-shirt that reads, in glittery blue and purple text, Bisexuality Best of Both Worlds.

This shirt belonged to Stephen Donaldson, who was an early advocate and activist for bisexual rights in the 1970s. Donaldson experienced bisexual erasure from a young age, having been told that his experiences with men made him gay and experiences with women made him straight. He was active within the gay rights movement for much of his early adult life but became disillusioned when he felt his bisexuality was not accepted in either the gay community or the straight community. Donaldson then devoted much of his activism to increasing the visibility and acceptance of bisexuality while maintaining connections with the gay liberation movement.

23. Into the Wine, Not the Label.

A white t-shirt that reads Into the wine, not the label in black text.

The Canadian television show Schitt’s Creek became a breakout hit, in part because of the fact that, although it featured queer central characters, there is no homophobia in the world of the show. The show’s co-creator, Daniel Levy, said, “If you put something like that out of the equation, you’re saying that it doesn’t exist and it shouldn’t exist.” In one famous exchange, Levy’s character, David, explains his pansexuality through an analogy about drinking wine, telling his friend, Stevie, “I like the wine and not the label.” Viewers have taken to using the wine analogy to explain their own sexuality to others, and Emily Hampshire, the actor who portrays Stevie, later said that Daniel helped her realize that she herself is pansexual.

22. Divine 1984 Vintage T-shirt

A blue t-shirt with an illustration of Divine.

Drag queen Divine’s influence on LGBTQ+ culture can hardly be summarized in one paragraph. Born Harris Glenn Milstead in Baltimore, Maryland, Divine made LGBTQ+ history through his collaborations with filmmaker John Waters. Divine rose to fame after starring in Waters’ film Pink Flamingos, which (despite its NC-17 rating) became an instant cult classic, and many queer theorists consider it to be the most important queer film of all time. Today, a 10-foot statue of Divine is on display at the American Visionary Art Museum to honor his status as one of the most iconic drag queens. Divine died of heart failure in 1988, but his influence is still felt everywhere—even on t-shirts.

21. I Can’t Even Think Straight

A black t-shirt that reads I can't even think straight... in white cursive text.

This clever and inclusive design can be traced back to 1992 when it was used on t-shirts for the Northland Gay Men’s Center in Duluth, Minnesota. The pithy and punny slogan has become so popular that it can be seen on t-shirts from all types of apparel brands and shops. While it doesn’t appear that the Northland Gay Men’s Center is active anymore, they’ve left a legacy with their t-shirt design that the LGBTQ+ community continues to use.

20. God Save The Queen

A pink t-shirt that with a black illustration of several RuPaul looks above the phrase God Save the Queen.

RuPaul is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable and iconic drag queens ever. He’s helped bring drag into the mainstream through his successful music career, talk show, reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, and numerous appearances in movies and television. RuPaul is also known for his glorious use of puns and clever jokes in Drag Race, such as “Impersonating Beyonce is not your destiny, child.” and “Your Lady Gaga was on the edge of glory.” In true RuPaul fashion, this t-shirt cleverly reappropriates the English national anthem and Sex Pistols song to promote his image and brand.

19. Keith Haring’s Ignorance = Fear

A white t-shirt with Keith Haring's Ignorance = Fear artwork on the front. Within the art, it reads "Ignorance = Fear," "Silence = Death," and "Fight AIDS ACT UP."

Another iconic piece of artwork from Keith Haring is the “Ignorance = Fear / Silence = Death” poster he made for ACT UP. Haring’s signature visual style and punchy and powerful language made this an unforgettable design. The three figures also subvert the proverbial Three Wise Monkeys (i.e., “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”) to symbolize the willful ignorance that perpetuated the epidemic and stigmas surrounding it. Haring’s artwork and ACT UP’s message continue to be seen on t-shirts, serving as a reminder that ignorance still prevents greater understanding.

18. Straight Outta the Closet

A black t-shirt displaying the popular movie art from Straight Outta Compton, but instead reads Straight Outta The Closet in rainbow colors.

This tee borrows from the iconic song “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. and gives it a spin on coming out of the proverbial closet. Living in the closet is often painful and challenging, so coming out as your true self can be a big decision for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. Coming out has become something to celebrate in recent years, and it’s even been commemorated with National Coming Out Day. This shirt tells everyone loudly and proudly that they’re outta the closet!

17. Marsha P. Johnson

A white t-shirt with a color photo of Marsha P. Johnson and the added flowers around her.

A legendary member of the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Marsha P. Johnson was a leader for LGBTQ+ rights, advocating for unhoused queer youth and those affected by HIV and AIDS. She was an important part of the Stonewall Uprising and became involved in the movement it sparked. As a Black transgender woman, she was particularly vocal about the importance of including transgender and BIPOC individuals when working for LGBTQ+ rights. There is now an organization named in her honor dedicated to protecting and defending the human rights of Black transgender people called The Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

16. NOH8

A white t-shirt with the NOH8 logo taking up the entire space of the front. "NOH" is in black and "8" is in red.

When Proposition 8 was passed in November 2008, same-sex marriage was banned in California. In response, photographers Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley, at the time largely known for their fashion and celebrity work, launched the NOH8 campaign. They photographed people clad in white shirts with NOH8 painted on one cheek and duct tape over their mouths. To date, they’ve used this format to spread their message against hateful and restrictive policies by photographing more than 65,000 people and by creating a merch line bearing their bold black and red logo. The centerpiece, of course, is a white t-shirt.

15. Love Wins

A white t-shirt that reads Love Wins in black with a rainbow above it.

June 26, 2015, was a historic day for the LGBTQ+ community: the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. All states became required by law to allow “same-sex couples” to marry and recognize “same-sex marriages” from other states. The Human Rights Campaign launched the hashtag #LoveWins, which quickly went viral and was shared by public figures like Barack Obama, Justin Timberlake, and Beyonce. The phrase has also shown up IRL on all types of apparel, thus cementing it in LGBTQ+ history. It also serves as a reminder that, against all odds, love can and does win.

14. Silence = Death

A black t-shirt displaying a pink triangle above the phrase "Silence = Death" in white text.

In ACT UP’s early days, they adopted a poster for their mission that simply read “Silence = Death” in white lettering beneath a fuchsia triangle. Six activists in New York City—Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Socarrás—initially created the poster in 1987 to spread awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic because it had deeply affected all their lives. The poster’s only symbol, the pink triangle, derived from Nazi Germany, where Nazis used it to identify gay men during the Holocaust. The LGBTQ+ community reclaimed it in the 1970s as a symbol of gay pride, and the creators saw an opportunity to make a powerful statement about the AIDS crisis.

13. Relentlessly Gay

A pink t-shirt that reads Relentlessly Gay and an illustration of a rainbow between each word.

In 2015, Baltimore resident Julie Baker woke up to an anonymous note at her front door. The writer complained that Baker’s front yard was “becoming relentlessly gay.” Baker assumed this was because of the rainbow-colored display of mason jar lights in the yard, although Baker said the decorations had more to do with her genuine love of rainbows and less with the fact that she is bisexual. Unfortunately, Baker had been targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ neighbors before who claimed that her yard was inappropriate for children in the neighborhood. As a sign of solidarity, Baker’s friends and neighbors started a fundraiser selling shirts that read “Relentlessly Gay”—with a rainbow, of course. One hundred percent of the proceeds were donated to The Center for LGBT Health Equity.

12. Love Has No Labels

A black t-shirt that reads Love Has No Labels inside of a white dotted line box.

Billed as “a movement to celebrate diversity and end bias,” the Love Has No Labels organization fights for equity across the board from LGBTQ+ and race to ability and age. Featuring an iconic, clean design, the Love Has No Labels logo can be filled in with many other words in place of the word “Labels,” giving us phrases including “Love Has No Gender” and “Love Has No Sexuality.” The organization provides educational materials to help fight bias for sexual orientations and gender identities, along with community action plans and links to campaigns and organizations providing direct support to these and other marginalized communities.

11. Black Trans Lives Matter

A black t-shirt that reads Black Trans Lives Matter. Trans is colored with the Trans Pride flag.

Black transgender people, particularly Black trans women like Marsha P. Johnson, have always been at the forefront of the LGBTQ+ movement. However, their unique struggles have not always been prioritized by either the gay rights movement or racial justice movements. According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, Black transgender people face disproportionately higher levels of discrimination and violence. Black trans people began to have a louder voice during the protests that followed the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 because they felt excluded from the movement. Many organizations have adopted the phrase and cause—this particular shirt is from the Human Rights Campaign.

10. Equality Logo From The Human Rights Campaign

A heather blue t-shirt with the Human Rights Campaign Equality logo (a yellow equals sign inside of a white-lined square).

The Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) logo may have a minimal design, but it carries the depth and history of an entire movement. The HRC began as a fund in 1980 and gradually evolved into the renowned organization it is today. The logo was an integral part of the HRC’s evolution and has become synonymous with the LGBTQ+ movement since its creation in 1995. Although it had been around for almost 20 years, the logo gained immense popularity in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court voted on marriage equality. Celebrities and other public figures began sharing the logo online and wearing the t-shirt as a sign of support, and the logo quickly went viral. The HRC logo is still a prominent symbol of LGBTQ+ equality as the fight for rights continues.

9. Frank Ocean’s “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” T-shirt

A white t-shirt that reads "Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you could just be quiet?" in black text.

In 2012, Frank Ocean made news by revealing that much of his acclaimed album Channel Orange was inspired by his first love, who happened to be a man. Publicly coming out in the world of hip-hop was practically unheard of at the time, especially for men, and Ocean’s courage and honesty propelled him to queer icon status. So when he donned a shirt saying, “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” people took note. The shirt was created by a small e-commerce site called Green Box Shop, and the quote was attributed to a tweet from 2015, but despite its humble beginnings, the message clearly made waves.

8. Pride D&D

A black t-shirt displaying the ampersand (&) from the Dungeons & Dragons logo with rainbow colors.

Wizards of the Coast, owner of the iconic Dungeons & Dragons IP (as well as Magic the Gathering), works to support a variety of community-oriented organizations. Hosting multiple Custom Ink t-shirt fundraisers for Pride month supporting Lambert Housea center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth—they re-colored their iconic ampersand rainbow in a D&D Pride campaign (along with the Magic the Gathering logo in a sister campaign). Showing their passion for bringing together gaming communities to support LGBTQ+ causes, they stated on the campaign page, “At Wizards of the Coast, we value all people and perspectives inside our walls, among our players, and in our games.”

7. Free Mom Hugs

A black t-shirt that reads "Free Mom Hugs" with a rainbow above it in the style of a child's drawing. Half of the rainbow contains the Pride Flag colors, and the other half contains the Trans Pride Flag colors.

When Sara Cunningham’s son, Parker, came out to her, she had trouble accepting it at first, but soon she came to embrace the truth. Seeing that there were many members of the LGBTQ+ community who were estranged from their families, she began an effort to embrace them—literally. Beginning with wearing a pin to a Pride festival bearing the phrase “Free Mom Hugs” and hugging anyone who asked, her moment became a movement. She runs a 501c3 nonprofit organization called Free Mom Hugs, and now moms all over the world can wear a shirt that shows that they, too, will give you a Mom Hug if you need one.

6. Be Gay. Do Crime.

A black t-shirt that reads Be Gay Do Crime inside of handcuffs in a heart shape and cuffed together at the point.

What began as graffiti on a building in France quickly became a viral meme that does what memes do best: put a humorous spin on a relatable (however dark) topic. In this case, the “Be Gay. Do Crime” meme has remained relevant since it is still illegal to be gay in 64 countries. Perhaps unintentionally, the meme also alludes to the treatment of LGBTQ+ criminals in mainstream media, such as Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Robert Elliot in Dressed to Kill, and Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct. With such a layered meaning, it’s no wonder people still wear t-shirts with the phrase.

5. It’s Not Pie

A black t-shirt that reads Equal rights for others doesn't mean less rights for you. It's not pie in gray text.

Sometimes, a simple metaphor can sum up a complicated issue. Rodney White started Black On Black in 2017 as a “clothing line AND protest sign,” speaking out against bigotry and systems of oppression. White was particularly inspired by the concept of intersectionality, which points to the multiple forms of oppression and discrimination that marginalized people can experience. One of the most popular shirts from the site is the “It’s Not Pie” shirt, which states, “Equal rights for others doesn’t mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.”

4. Keith Haring’s National Coming Out Day

A white t-shirt with Keith Haring's National Coming Out Day artwork on the front. At the bottom of the art, it reads "National Coming Out Day..." and "October 11-1998 National Gay Rights Advocates."

National Coming Out Day has been an annual tradition for years now, but it began as a march for LGBTQ+ rights on October 11, 1987. It wasn’t until after the march that National Coming Out Day was declared, marking it as a day to celebrate coming out of the proverbial closet and having the courage to live one’s truth every day. Keith Haring, an openly gay artist whose work often contained social and political themes, created the first poster for National Coming Out Day in 1988. Haring’s pop art style and use of vibrant colors perfectly depict the cultural moment, and people still seek out his work for their National Coming Out Day t-shirts.

3. Y’all Means All

A heather blue t-shirt that reads Y'all means all in dark blue baseball-jersey style lettering.

In 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that they saw a 43% increase in anti-LGBTQ hate groups. In response to that number, they launched the Y’all Means All campaign to combat the rise in hate. It’s a reminder to use gender-neutral language when addressing people since “y’all” is a great alternative to “you guys,” for example. The phrase quickly caught on and was adopted by the Human Rights Campaign on t-shirts. Country musician Miranda Lambert further popularized the phrase when she released the song “Y’all Means All” for the Netflix show Queer Eye.

2. The First Pride Was a Riot

A black t-shirt that reads "1969" inside of a rainbow-colored circle with a black illustration of the Statue of Liberty. Beneath that reads "Stonewall The First Pride Was a Riot."

In the late 1960s, the police systematically raided bars patronized by the LGBTQ+ community, policing “gay behavior” and those not wearing “gender-appropriate” clothing, which was illegal at the time. In the early morning of June 28, 1969, police invaded The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. This raid was different from the others—partially because of how the bar patrons fought back. It soon drew hundreds of people from around the neighborhood and sparked days of protests. On the first anniversary of the event, there was a march from The Stonewall to Central Park, making it America’s first gay pride parade.

1. Sounds Gay. I’m In.

A black t-shirt that reads Sounds Gay, I'm In inside of a rainbow colored circle.

The LGBTQ+ community has a history of reclaiming formerly pejorative words or slurs. The use of “gay” as a pejorative term is relatively recent—it was first documented in the 1980s and was most popular among young people. Of course, the LGBTQ+ community responded with slogans such as “Sounds gay… I’m in” to subvert this new meaning and use it for the greater good.


From Stonewall and ACT UP to Marsha P. Johnson and Harvey Milk, depictions of queer culture on t-shirts have been a significant part of LGBTQ+ history. And while some t-shirts may have come from lesser-known parts of history or movements, their impact on the people who wore them is just as crucial to LGBTQ+ culture and progress. No matter their origin, these tees are worth celebrating for their unique contributions.

Special thanks to J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Wearing Gay History, Digital Transgender Archive, and Lesbian Herstory Archives whose collections inspired this post. Additionally, Ryan Morrice is credited with ideation and outreach, and Rebecca Schmidt is credited with t-shirt recreation and presentation.

Stephanie Self loves to tell stories and expose new perspectives through writing. When she's not typing on a laptop or buried in a book, she loves watching horror movies and pro wrestling, playing video games, and snuggling with her cat, CleoCatra. Lest you should think she never sees the light of day, she also spends time practicing hot yoga, hiking, and traveling.

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