Philadelphia’s new rainbow flag divides LGBTQ community

A reworked rainbow flag that has additional brown and black stripes to include LGBTQ people of colour has proved to be highly controversial.

The eight-stripe flag was unveiled earlier this month when it was raised outside City Hall in Philadelphia to commemorate the city’s Pride celebrations.

The flag was developed by Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs and the Tierney ad agency as part of the #MoreColorMorePride campaign. It aims to address the fact that “people of colour have been marginalised and ignored and even intentionally excluded” within the LGBTQ community.

The #MoreColorMorePride campaign explains on its website: “In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker designed the original rainbow flag. An iconic symbol of LGBTQ+ unity. So much has happened since then. A lot of good, but there’s more we can do. Especially when it comes to recognising people of color in the LGBTQ+ community.

“To fuel this important conversation, we’ve expanded the colors of the flag to include black and brown. It may seem like a small step. But together we can make big strides toward a truly inclusive community.”

The addition of the two new colours has not been well received by everyone. The move has been criticised for being unnecessary as the flag is already meant to embrace all people. It’s also been described as disrespectful to Baker, the flag’s creator, who passed away at the end of March.

There’s been the argument made that the addition of the colours don’t conceptually make sense, in that the flag is intended to represent a rainbow and not skin colours.

Others have also slammed the decision to keep the design “secret” before its unveiling, insisting that there should have been an opportunity for the community to offer its input into the decision.

Writing for LGBTQ Nation, Rebecca Juro said that this is “how truly inclusive movements are supposed to work: when there are decisions to be made that impact everyone, everyone gets a say”.

She continued: “The rainbow flag is by definition inclusive and always has been. Its brightly coloured stripes already have specific meanings, and none of them have anything to do with race.”

Are we really a rainbow community?

The city’s mayor Jim Kenney, had defended the flag, noting that, “Racism in the LGBTQ community is a real issue. It’s a real issue in our entire society and we need to do more address it here in Philadelphia.”

It’s also been pointed out that there are many variations of the rainbow flag (such as the SA Rainbow Flag) around the world, and also flags that represent segments of the LGBTQ community, such as the transgender and bear communities.

In fact, Baker’s original 1978 flag had eight stripes, not six, each colour representing a component of the LGBTQ community: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.

Due to difficulties in commercially reproducing hot pink and turquoise at the time, those two colours were dropped, leaving the six-coloured version of the flag most often used today.

“If it really irks you that people of colour wanted to feel represented on a Pride flag, you need to rethink your battle plans, because this is a stupid hill to die on,” wrote Amanda Kerri for the Advocate. “People of colour really have been marginalised and pushed aside in our community, and if you don’t think that’s true, I can probably guess what colour skin you have — and no, spray tan is not a skin colour.”

She continued: “I know that the rainbow flag is supposed to cover everyone in the community — black, white, indigenous, Asian, gay, bi, trans, etc. — but when some people feel they have to do something like this to draw attention to their unique issues, it shows we’ve all failed in some regard. We’ve overlooked something, we haven’t been listening, and we haven’t been supporting each other, and so we aren’t really a rainbow.”

A necessary revision or a misguided attempt at social justice? What do you think of Philadelphia’s new rainbow flag?


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