Last week saw the launch of an anti-racism campaign in New Zealand called Give Nothing to Racism. It’s a great idea and I wholeheartedly support it.
Interestingly, just as the campaign was launched, a re-designed queer pride flag was unveiled in the US city of Philadelphia featuring two new stripes: one black and one brown. The new flag is part of a campaign in the city called More Color More Pride and the intention behind it is to recognise non-white people in the wider LGBT communities.
As you can imagine, there has been mixed reaction to this change in the flag. In a CNN news item about the campaign, one of the organisers has said that “the vast majority” of opposition to the new flag is from white gay males who “don’t understand the issues that LGBT people of color might face.”
Well, as a white gay male, I too am adding cautious opposition to this new flag. I say cautious for two reasons:
- I accept that racism exists in the LGBT communities and we need to both acknowledge that and try and overcome it.
- The LGBT rainbow flag has had a number of colour variations over the years, so we needn’t be too precious over the current one.
In fact, there are quite a number of pride flag variants covering a wide range of types of people, orientations and sexual proclivities: bisexuality, transgender, intersex, leather, bears, lipstick lesbians and even drag pride to name a few.
The thing is though, all these other pride flags have a different set of colours, and often a different number of bars to the original pride flag.
The generally accepted notion today is that the rainbow flag is based on a spectrum of light and that the colours represent everyone.
You might think of the original as the ‘umbrella’ flag. Though it too has changed, originally it had eight bars, and the top one was hot pink. Currently, the generally accepted flag has six colours and each colour represents aspirational aspects of nature and the human condition (life, healing, sunlight, nature, magic/art, serenity, spirit).
The flag was about inclusivity for LGBT people no matter where they came from or who they were – it was not about sub-dividing human beings, especially on the colour of their skin.
Having said that, there is a natural and understandable desire for people to have something that represents them and their particular background – and that is why we have those other pride flags.
I wonder if adding two new colours to the Rainbow Flag will actually debase its message of inclusivity and cheapen the discourse around racism. There is no doubt that as a community we should be talking about prejudice and we should be challenging it constantly. We also need to acknowledge that there are in fact no races other than the human race. Our skin colour should never gain us privilege over another human being or be the cause of discrimination.
The Philadelphia flag raises some important issues around inclusion – if we add colours for people who are (and I hate these terms) ‘black’ and ‘brown’ then should we also add or change colours to represent other people? And if we do that, then what colour could represent Asian people, or white people, or Native American people. And what colour will represent all those people who are mixed-race?
The simple beauty of the Rainbow Flag is that it is above all of that. It is a symbol of pride for people whose sexual orientation and gender identity is not straight. It is aspirational and something that everyone can identify with because it is not about race, colour, background etc.
I’m concerned that this new flag has added a racial element to this iconic symbol and that by doing so the designers of it may well have created their own symbol of segregation and marginalisation.
Having said all that, I can fully appreciate the intent behind it and I also fully understand the privilege my Anglo-Saxon background gives me in this world, and while I’m disheartened by the stories of discrimination I see in the world I’m not sure this is the best way of tackling it.
I guess after writing all of the above, I’m actually in two minds about the new flag as it may well be a positive thing if it makes us all think about discrimination and leads to actual behaviour change.
But I must come back to my personal views of the original Pride flag. It represents a literal spectrum and a symbol that means everyone is welcome and included. What it NEVER represents to me is the colour of someone’s skin, their socio-economic status, their country of origin or their political leanings.
We need to have ongoing discussions about inclusion and acceptance, after all, queer people should know better than most that prejudice is hurtful and dangerous. But perhaps we can do that without deconstructing a symbol that was meant to fly proudly and represent everyone.