The city of Philadelphia kicked off pride month with the introduction of a new rainbow flag, a design that includes two additional stripes, one black and one brown, to symbolize the inclusion of LGBTQ people of color. But instead of bringing inclusivity to the LGBTQ community, it’s been a touchstone for outrage. And it’s shown something disturbing about our community: many believe that there is more separating us than uniting us.
The flag issue has cut two ways. On the one hand there are those who say that the stripes are needed because the experiences of LGBTQ people of color aren’t represented by the original flag. On the other side, there are those who feel that the additional stripes are an unnecessary alteration to an essential LGBTQ symbol, a symbol that already includes a message of diversity and that the addition needlessly politicizes the flag.
It’s hardly the first time that there have been redesigns of the flag, and I do believe that any group of LGBTQs has the right to imbue it with its own unique identity. Many pride flag variations have already been created. There are flags for transgender folks. For bears. For leather guys. For LGBT Arizonans. Even yachters who are gay.
A little back story might be helpful. The original rainbow flag was meant to replace another symbol for gay people oppressed in Nazi Germany: the pink triangle that gays wore in concentration camps. In the early gay liberation movement, some felt it was important to take back that symbol, making it a reminder of what had, and should never again, happen.
Designed by Gilbert Baker, in 1978, the original pride flag, was meant to have a more uplifting connotation than the death symbolized by the triangle. It had eight colors all meant to represent different qualities. At the top was hot pink, which represented sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow signifying sunlight, green for nature, turquoise to represent art, indigo for harmony, and finally violet at the bottom for spirit. Over time, the flag was cut down to six colors (pink was cut because the dye was hard to obtain and turquoise was cut to give the flag an even number of colors, so it could be flown as two halves in a San Francisco march).
Note that none of the stripes were meant to represent actual people, or groups within the LGBTQ community. At least not until the late 1980s, when a black stripe was added (in some flags) to represent those who had succumbed to AIDS.
In my mind, there’s no reason why colors can’t be added. There’s no reason why stripes can’t represent one or more of the many identity groups under the LGBTQ umbrella.
I’m also not saying they should. I am saying that if a group thinks it’s important to do so, if it can start a constructive dialogue about who feels included and who feels left out, then add the stripe.
Indeed, there are many LGBTQs of color who do feel like they’ve been left out.
Isaiah Wilson, director of external affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition, recently told the AP that the LGBT-rights movement “has been whitewashed.” Said Wilson, “Black queer and trans folks have always been there, but our contributions have been devalued,”
Let’s face it. There is racism in LGBTQ circles. How could there not be? There is racism in the broader society. LGBTQ people of color legitimately have urgent issues, like policing and incarceration and economic survival that many – though not all, surely – white LGBTQs don’t have. And there are decades of “no Asians, no Blacks, sorry just a preference” lines in personal profiles that people of color feel is a stab in the heart more than a benign preference.
And then there’s this new thing of alt-right – let’s call them white supremacist – leaders attracting gay white men into their fold. Let’s hope it’s a much smaller phenomena than the articles suggest.
Just last weekend, the Chicago “Dyke March” banned Jewish pride flags featuring the Star of David that were brought by people who wanted to show their queer, Jewish identities. Some marchers said the flag was anti-Palestinian and, therefore, made them feel unsafe. One New York Times op-ed contributor said she was glad about this incident because it clarifies her belief that every form of social oppression is not necessarily linked to every other form of social oppression, at least not in practice in the real world.
Wherever one might stand on these issues, a new dialogue on intersectionality in the LGBTQ community has begun. Or maybe it’s continuing with a new twist and some new voices. And that’s good. Because as I see it, even though discussions may be divisive – whenever there are humans, there are strong disagreements – the more discussion we have, ultimately, the more likely everyone will be fully represented. And by fully represented, I mean in society, not just on a piece of fabric.