Written by Franchesca Thomas
The opposition to black and brown stripes being added to the Pride Flag is an almost poetic metaphor for the discrimination LGBTQ+ people of color face on a daily basis. One would think, being part of a marginalized community, broader inclusivity and intersectionality would be a given, but that is not always the case. As demonstrated with the mixed reactions to Philadelphia’s unveiling of a redesigned pride flag at a Pride Month kick-off event this past June, one that included brown and black stripes to represent our black and brown LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters (Coleman, 2017).
The most prominent arguments I’ve seen against this inclusion of the two additional colors are as follows:
1) Race is not a sexual orientation.
My counter to this argument is: technically, transgenderism is not a sexual orientation either. It’s a gender identity and despite what some people think, gender identity and sexual orientation are not mutually inclusive. And if you want to delve into semantics, none of the colors on the flag represent sexual orientation or gender identity specifically.
2) The colors of the rainbow pride flag are already all inclusive.
While I cannot argue that, the decision to alter the flag in such a way is more of a symbol than anything else. A symbol like the one Gilbert Baker created in 1978. Does the name or the year ring a bell? That was when Baker created what is lovingly revered as the symbol for gay pride today.
Prior to the creation of the rainbow flag, the symbol for the gay rights movement and pride was the pink triangle (Morgan, 2017). An image that was reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community from the Nazi regime during World War II. The identifying badge for homosexuals, persecuted by the SS and sent to concentration camps, was a pink triangle, inverted as a means of “warning”. You know, like a traffic sign. Inverted pink triangles warned of homosexuality, as well as sexual offenders like rapists, pedophiles, and zoophiles (Plant, 1988).
Understandably, Baker elected to go with a more hopeful symbol for the gay rights movement, one that wasn’t tied to such a dark and dehumanizing past. Thus the idea for the rainbow flag was born, picking specific colors to represent the togetherness of the LGBTQ+ community. Because LGBTQ+ people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors themselves (Morgan, 2017). It originally came with two colors that are no longer included. So, we know there’s always been room for more colors.
The reality of the situation is, we should be actively inviting and opening our arms to our black and brown LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. They have to deal with a double whammy of discrimination. People of color have to deal with, not only the overt and/or subtle racism they face for their skin color on a regular basis, but also the discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity. And not only just by white bigots, but by people in their own communities as well.
Now this is not an attempt at validating a stereotype that communities of color are more homophobic than white communities. Because the reality is, a lot of these prejudices tend to stem from a form of classism and the way religion is used to quell the masses in order to prevent revolution because of economic and social inequities. That is its own piece and I shall refrain from delving deeper here. But what I am saying is, I don’t believe communities of color are any more or any less homophobic than white communities. It is subjective and dependent on things like personal belief systems and access to education.
What the additional stripes provide is a symbol. We all need symbols. Symbols like the White House lighting up in rainbow colors when gay marriage was legalized statewide. We all need the inclusion these symbols can provide. Right now, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2016, people of color comprise approximately 40% of the LGBTQ+ population in the US (Gates, 2017). And yet they are the least represented in media.
Don’t get me wrong, that continues to improve. With characters like Jamal Lyon on Empire, Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black, Raymond Holt on Brooklyn 99, Lionel Higgins on Dear White People, Amanita and Lito on Sense8, Titus Andromedon on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder; we are slowly and surely bringing some representation of LGBTQ+ people of color to the forefront of the average television viewer’s living room. But when you take into consideration just how many television shows exist presently, that is such a tiny fraction. The list I just provided isn’t the entirety of POC LGBTQ+ characters in media, but the full list isn’t much longer.
Intersectionality has been something that the LGBTQ+ community has struggled with, like any culture or subculture with a dominating class or race. I recall how significant it was when the television show Queer as Folk premiered on Showtime almost twenty years ago. It was the first American television show of its kind. A show built around the lives of five gay men and two lesbians in Pittsburgh, none of which were dying of AIDS. But more problematic than some of the stereotypes it played into, was the fact that all of the characters were white.
The black and brown stripes on this redesigned flag are symbolic of trying to move forward into a more intersectional community. While it does not fix the core issue of the discrimination LGBTQ+ POC face in their everyday lives, if we actively demonstrate that they have a safe haven in their local LGBTQ+ community, perhaps we can better tackle the issues that we all face. Black and brown lives matter, and instead of ostracizing our brothers and sisters who differ from us ethnically, we should embrace and support them.
Does it fix the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people of color face within other and their own communities? No. But it has the potential of being a good place to start. Now I’m not so naïve to believe that racism is an easy fix. Nor am I so narcissistic to believe that one op-ed written by a white cisgender female is going to unite all of us, despite Hollywood’s propensity for telling stories of POC from the perspective of the white savior.
The thing is, I don’t understand why there is any outrage over this revised flag. There are a plethora of individualized pride flags already within the community. From the variations of pride flags for the different sexualities and gender identities, to flags for specific communities, like Bears and BDSM. If we can embrace these different flags within our community, I truly don’t understand the reticence or refusal to accept what is just another symbol of inclusivity for all of us.
At this point, if you disagree with amending our Pride flag (which is within your right, first amendment and all that); if you are genuinely angry about the revision, for whatever reason you state that makes your anger seem righteous as opposed to bigoted, it’s my first amendment right to say you are part of the problem. Embracing these additional colors to our pride flag is a metaphor for embracing the people they represent and if you have a problem with that, well… the problem isn’t the flag, is it?
Read more: Somewhere Over the LGBTQ+ Rainbow