What Does The Empathy Symbol Stand For?

The Empathy Symbol stands for two “sides” reaching out to each other, and opening up to try to truly understand the other’s experiences and feelings. It could be two groups of people: men and women, blacks and whites, Jews and Muslims, fundamentalist Christians and atheists, Israelis and Palestinians, gays and straights, old and young, able-bodied and disabled, immigrants and native-born, and so on; or it could be two individuals: spouses, neighbors, co-workers, etc.

The Original Empathy Symbol, created in 1973

People have asked about the origins of the empathy symbol. I was a college student, active in the anti-Vietnam war movement. I was contemplating the peace symbol I was wearing, when suddenly the idea for the empathy symbol popped into my head, full-blown. It felt as though it had been given to me, and I have felt spiritually charged to bring it to the world ever since. Deb Ellsworth

Featured Empathy Promoter



The best way to increase empathy for and acceptance of people who have been marginalized, or even demonized, is by creating opportunities for people to get to know them as full human beings.  It is much harder to hate someone you know, even if that is only through the media. People relate to characters on TV shows and in movies—they are real people for viewers. Even though 71% of people say they have not met a transgender person, through media that number can be raised.

We’ve come a long way since the 1990s, when Ellen DeGeneres was pretty much the sole representative of the entire LGBTQ community. To name just a few of the many popular shows that include fully complex LGBTQ characters: The Last of Us, Yellowjackets, Abbott Elementary, Quantum Leap, Severance. The Umbrella Academy not only featured a main character who transitioned from one season to the next, the actor who played that character, Elliot Page, also transitioned in real life.

GLAAD stands for Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. It was founded in 1985, and is the most prominent world-wide advocate for truthful representation of LGBTQ persons. This non-profit organization provides consultation for the media, including movie studios, TV productions, online media, and gaming, as well as in factual reporting in news outlets, podcasts, etc. They seek to ensure fair, accurate and respectful portrayal of LGBTQ people in all media. GLAAD gives annual awards, as well as continuing real-time coverage of LGBTQ issues in the news.

As is true for all stereotyped groups, it was until recently acceptable and common to portray gay people in the media with broad stereotypes, rather than as individual human beings with full lives. GLAAD has done an outstanding job of changing that, and it makes a huge difference. The GLAAD Accountability Project monitors and documents public figures and groups that spread misinformation and false rhetoric against LGBTQ people, youth, and allies. The Entertainment Media Program monitors film, television, music, and related entertainment media to ensure inclusive, diverse and accurate portrayals of the LGBTQ community. Their annual Where We Are on TV report is extensive and thorough.

GLAAD says, “LGBTQ inclusion in entertainment is important to more than two in five of all American adults. WPP found that super majorities of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ 18-24 year olds actively seek out queer inclusive media. Key younger audiences are looking for stories and characters that truly reflect themselves, their friends, family and the world around them.”

GLAAD describes its work as “Leading the conversation. Shaping the media narrative. Changing the culture. That’s how GLAAD accelerates acceptance for LGBTQ people.” What could be more important than that?

To see previous empathy promoters, click here. 


Free download: B & W bookmarks for kids to color, with a simple, beautiful description of empathy. Whether you are a teacher, a caregiver or a parent, you can easily download a sheet of eight bookmarks and print them on cardstock. They would make lovely gifts for children to share with others. Find them on the Materials page.

Check out our page Empathy Symbol in Action! See how the empathy symbol is being used in many ways, from artwork to clothing to logos to inclusion in books to more. There are so many ways to express and share the core value of empathy!

Featured Products! 

Empathy Symbol Copper Necklace

Show everyone your commitment to a more empathetic world. We are excited to be offering empathy symbol necklaces, with a copper symbol on a soft cord. Each pendant is individually made from a mold created from the original empathy symbol. Since each one is hand-crafted, they will vary slightly. We are also now offering 1.5″ buttons and three-inch sew-on patches. You can also get the image for you to use for free however you might like.

Empathy News

For more information about the empathy movement, read Empathy Magazine –an online collection of the latest news about empathy from around the world. Curated by Edwin Rutsch

Join the conversation on the Empathy Symbol Facebook Page!

Check out our Facebook page, and Follow and join the conversation. Posts about the value of empathy in our polarized world; how to promote empathy; and especially posts to further our own empathy toward, and understanding of, others.

Using the Empathy Symbol

empathy symbol german art

A German artist named Caro created this piece of art using the empathy symbol. Others are incorporating the empathy symbol into their logos (with our permission obtained.) We are looking for artists and craftspeople to help spread the value of empathy via items they create–jewelry, mugs, phone case covers… Please see below for how to obtain our permission to do so, under the Creative Commons License.

Here’s how you can use the Empathy Symbol

Use of Empathy Symbol is subject to a Creative Commons License. Find out more.