|2017 Philadelphia Pride Flag|
Recently Philadelphia made a controversial change to the Pride flag that they fly during their pride celebrations. They added a black and brown stripe, and the world came to a standstill. They did not say that everyone had to fly the flag with the new colours, no law was passed forbidding people from flying the original flag. They did it because in that city the racial tensions are high. The change may very well be an attempt to bridge a racial gap, but to many it was a misguided move to alienate others from the broad spectrum that the flag represents. Calls for a white stripe to be added rang across social media and even more claimed, correctly, that the rainbow flag does not represent one race or another, it is for all members of the community. To others they care little and feel that if this minor change to the flag in one city makes a group of marginalized people feel welcomed, then does it really matter? Not flying the flag with a Black and Brown stripe is still alright after all.
|Original Pride Flag|
The rainbow is meant to represent a broad community of people that are equally welcome. The original design consisting of eight colours represented diversity in the Gay Community. The original design conceived of in 1978 consisted of eight colours: Pink, Red, Orange, Yellow, Turquoise, Green, Blue, Purple. The colours Pink and Turquoise were dropped from the flag in 1979 because of the difficulty with mass production of these two colours. The new version of the flag (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple) since then has widely been recognized as the definitive representation of the gay community. As with most flags the symbolism of the flag gives a unifying banner under which we as a people can rally and for many in the LGBTQ+ community the pride flag is a hallmark of safety, community, and unity. I, personally, believe that the rainbow in any form represents all of mankind, but there is a part of me that also understands the intention behind the change.
In some of my own reviews of the volumes of commentary that has appeared over this topic, there are a few things that have stood out for me. The blatantly racist rhetoric thinly disguised as Pro-LGBT support is in of itself shocking and deserving of a much larger discussion in our community. The misguided belief that our community is wholly welcoming of all is simply not true. You have only to look at the way we ourselves place labels on the various segments and how internal conflict has given rise to much discord over the years. When it all started way back in the late 1950's and early 1960's (another misapprehension that the gay rights movement started with Stonewall, but yet again a topic for another time) we were simply known as the gay community. In the 1970's Gay Women did not feel that they were being adequately represented and became defined as the Lesbian community. Then we had the introduction of the Bisexual Community, the Trans Community, etc. Narrowed down even more and we have Bears, Otters, Lipstick, Biker, etc. We are a community of labels and division that is theoretically unified under the rainbow.
No, outside of the above there were two specific things that really stood out to me because of the sheer lack of understanding by so many people. People who without careful research to make an informed opinion are spouting off and creating a dialogue centered around misinformation taken from social media feeds. Here are two major items that need some clarity in the greater discussion surrounding this topic: #1) That the gay community believes it is the very first group to ever use the Rainbow Flag and #2) That under no circumstances should the flag be altered.
The Gay Community was the first to use the Rainbow Flag.
False. Here are the most commonly known instances of it's use throughout history.
|Thomas Muntzer |
during the Reformation
The 1600's: The rainbow flag was first used during the reformation in Germany in the 1600's. The Rainbow flag was used in combination with a peasants boot as a sign of the new era, hope, and social change. In fact the use of the Rainbow as a flag originally meant "biblical promise". God created the rainbow to show Noah that there would never again be a worldwide flood. The flag consisted of near identical colours as the current rendition of the Pride Flag.
Designed by Thomas Muntzer it was widely used as a symbol throughout his life and he is regularly shown flying the rainbow flag in depictions.
The 1700's: It was suggested by Thomas Paine during the American Revolutionary war that the Rainbow Flag be flown from the masts of ships to denote that they were neutral in the war.
1885: The Rainbow Flag was created to represent the Bhuddist Faith. It contains six colours: Blue, Yellow, Red, White and Orange with the sixth colour a blend of the first five.
Although not truly a rainbow in terms of the traditional colours we think of when looking at a rainbow, it is considered a rainbow by the Buddhist faith.
|Rainbow flag proposed for Armenia |
by artist Martiros Saryan.
1919: After Armenia gained independence after World War I it was proposed that the rainbow flag be used by artist Martiros Saryan.
They chose to not use his design and instead used a flag that contained the colours used in a past Armenian kingdom.
|International Cooperative flag |
1921 - 2001
1921: The international cooperative movement adapted a seven colour rainbow flag to represent the growing values and ideals of the movement around the world. It was a famous French cooperator, Professor Charles Gide that first proposed using the seven colours of the rainbow. The flag became the official symbol of the international organization in 1924 and was adapted to represent the movement around the world in 1925. In 2001 the design was changed from a rainbow flag to a rainbow logo flag on a white field.
1920's: There is some debate about this but the flag that is believed to have been in use to represent the people of the Inca's since the early 1500's consisted of a rainbow meant to represent each of the people that came together under the Inca Empire. The earliest recorded evidence dates back to 1534 by Francisco Lopez de Jerez.
Since the 1920's it has been widely recognized that the Inca Empire did not have an official flag and it is thought that this patchwork rainbow quilt was designed after colonization to represent the people and not the empire.
1924: Meher Baba (India) designed this flag to represent man's rise from the grossest of impressions of lust and anger - symbolized by Red - to the culmination of the highest state of spirituality and connection to God - sky blue.
1961: This flag first appeared in Germany in 1961 during the peace and anti nuclear / anti war movement. The rainbow later appeared throughout the 1960's peace movement incorporated in symbols with the peace sign, tye dye clothing and flags, and has been used by the peace movement ever since.
1978: This is the year that Gilbert Baker first showed us the original 8 colour pride flag.
|Flag of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast|
1996: The Jewish Autonomous Oblast (located in the far eastern district of Russia, by the border of China).
The flag consists of seven colours meant to represent the seven branched Jewish Menorah.
It should also be noted that in 2005 the Patriots of Russia Political Party adapted the rainbow flag as their emblem.
So... as you can see although many people in the community assume that we originated the use of the rainbow to identify our community, that assumption is not correct. If we look back throughout history these are only some of the most well known uses, and in fact the rainbow was first used in the Old Testament.
OK. Now on to item number two. That the flag should never be altered to represent one group because the flag already represents all members of the LGBT community equally. Instead of saying that this is False, I am calling Hypocrisy on our community. Why? Well I could go on and on about the various renditions that the flag has seen in its 39 years, but I won't. I want to talk about our own community and the way that it has altered OTHER flags because of the argument that the existing flag does not adequately represent the LGBTQ+ community. Flags like the Canadian National Flag.
I can remember when this flag first started to appear in people's windows, at parades, and any number of other places. The argument by the people using it was that they wanted a flag that they could better identify with. One that represented our community in Canada better. Wait... what? Last time I checked the Canadian Flag represented all citizens of Canada regardless of cultural background, religion, orientation, etc. When we made this alteration to our national flag there was much uproar from many parts of Canada, both in and out of the LGBT community. People were offended that our community would take liberties with a symbol of our national pride. When our community was confronted with it, we charged those that opposed the flag as bigots, homophobic, etc. We cited the criticism as justification for the change claiming that it was proof that we still experienced challenges and needed this symbol of our Canadian LGBT Pride. The change was also justified because other groups had already made changes to the flag, such as the Cannabis culture, Biker groups, etc. If they can alter the Canadian flag, well, why can't we? It is a fair question to be sure, but if we are going to appropriate another flag do we really have the right to be upset if a group does the same with ours?
The arguments were not much different when the same alterations were made to the Stars and Stripes in the United States.
So why do we think it is OK to alter another flag to suit our community and yet feel so slighted when someone does the same to ours? If our flag is sacred and should not be altered, then I believe we need to have that same respect for other flags and symbols. We as a community have set the precedent and now that Philadelphia has fed us a spoon of our own medicine we are going to complain about it. Pot meet Kettle? Maybe so.
I am not saying that I agree to the addition of the Black and Brown stripes to the rainbow flag because I believe that the rainbow does represent all people. The introduction of any colour that denotes race will create division much more than it will bring us together. That said I think that we as a community need to do better having the uncomfortable discussion about inclusion.
We like to say that we are all inclusive regardless of cultural background, religion, etc. The facts clearly show differently, and the dialogue that we see surrounding this debate only reinforces that there is a huge divide in our community. Not just because of skin colour either. We see division due to religious backgrounds, body type, gender, gender identity, and so much more.
If we want to really be what we claim we are; then we need to do a much better job demonstrating our commitment to diversity. That means doing a better job of standing up for those that feel like they are on the fringe of our community. We need to not be afraid to have the challenging discussions and remember that our community was founded on the principles of equality for all.
Don't forget that It was only a mere 48 years ago that homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada, and less than that since we received the other recognition we have.
Just because some of us have found safety, doesn't mean that everyone has. If in our ease we leave others behind, we are failing the founders of this community.
Distracted by colours... Isn't this really the folly of the flag?