Combat racism by adding black and brown stripes to the LGBT+ Rainbow Flag

Tuesday, 15 January 2019 11:08 GMT

A participant touches a rainbow flag during Queer Pride March, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi, India, November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Debate is raging over whether the universally known LGBT+ Rainbow Flag should expand to take on brown and black stripes to recognise racism within the community

*warning: this post contain offensive language and terms of racial abuse

Ash Kotak is a playwright and film-maker and leads the #AIDSMemoryUK Campaign to establish a national tribute to HIV and AIDS in Britain

Manchester Pride has officially adopted the Philadelphia 2017 Pride initiative by adding brown and black stripes to the existing Rainbow Flag on its logo in order to be more inclusionary to queer people of colour.

But some gay white men in the UK are not happy.

They argue that the classic international flag is already inclusive. “The Pride flag was never about race or skin colour,” they say. This may be true but is there necessarily anything wrong with simply updating a flag to reflect changing concerns? After all, marriage was once only between a man and a woman.

The original flag was designed by U.S. artist and activist Gilbert Baker in 1978, as a challenge set to him by LGBT+ icon Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected politician. Originally, when hand dyed, it had eight stripes. Its popularity grew quickly, which required mass production but as fuchsia pink was difficult to print it was dropped and so seven stripes remained.

However, as a result of the shocking news of Milk's assassination that same year, the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Committee once more adapted the flag and eliminated the indigo stripe to be able to split it and have two flags flying on either side of the city’s Market Street in commemoration. Thus the six-striped flag was born.

In the light of that history, everything is possible, even to universally accept the new flag in today’s changing world to show solidarity for the struggles at home, as well as the new battles being fought and sometimes won around the world.

Racism, in many forms, is often ignored in the western queer world and until it is taken seriously the new flag is not only a statement but a reminder of the inequality that remains.

I’ve often experienced blatant racism. On online apps; being called a Paki in a bar; being asked by a drag queen in Soho London “why are you looking at me like a terrorist” (she herself was black); and being expelled from a queue for a well-known gay bar along with every other brown and black person in the queue whilst being screamed at, by the owner, “you aren’t fucking getting in”.

That last example happened in the week of London’s 7/7 terrorist attacks, our 9/11. Better out than in, I say, so at least I know what I am dealing with. I, like so many of my friends and people of colour, could go on and on. We also battle with our own religious and cultural communities too.

With the world as divided as it is today and a lack of progressive political leadership, we as LGBT+ people must continue to push for unity and equality. We have fought so hard together to come so far. Why should we accept those forces that could tear us apart? The flag debate itself could enlighten us to each other’s point of view. Ideas are not static and as change happens we will not always agree.

The negative responses themselves are an example of how people of colour are undermined and under-represented. If we finally accept the fact that prejudices exists then surely a more engaged community would be championing the idea behind the two extra stripes. Until we are all equal, some are more equal than others.

Is it the case that having fought so hard together and won so many battles against societal prejudices, that we have avoided examining ourselves more closely?

Fifty years after the Stonewall riots, with the decriminalisation of gay sex in India last September and of homosexuality in Trinidad and Tobago a few months earlier, the same battles are being fought and won in the non-Western world.

We need to honour and support these campaigns by activists and NGOs in non-white-majority countries until one day the international rainbow flag is as inclusive as it professes to be.