Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Rainbow (Dis-) Connection

I couldn't attend yesterday's celebration of the life of Rainbow Flag creator Gilbert Baker. But I was so moved by my friend Jay Blotcher's post about it that I had to share: 

He writes:
Still tingling over last evening's amazing memorial tribute for Gilbert Baker in NYC. The image that sticks with me? Gilbert's stalwart, loving mother, Patricia, participating in the march down Christopher Street to raise the Rainbow Flag at Hudson River Park. It broke my heart, but also energized it. Such grace and dignity -- clearly a hallmark of the entire Baker family.  

By the way: I've been deeply disheartened by all of the vitriol I've been reading regarding Philadelphia's redesign featuring black and brown stripes to celebrate racial diversity. I get that the original flag -- which was already stripped of pink and turquoise to save money -- doesn't symbolize any race or skin color. (There's obviously no white stripe.) And I get that brown and black aren't colors that appear in actual rainbows. But I don't get the need to be so instantly dismissive of people who do feel the change would mean something to them. (Did you feel this way when LGBT people were being told New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade wasn't about "being gay," so they couldn't march representing themselves as such?) We're fortunate to be living in a time of greater awareness of discrimination and inequality, which is why all LGBT Americans now enjoy equal rights on many (but not all) fronts. How about putting what we've learned to use and listening to people who still feel they are not being heard instead of insisting that everything is fine "as is" just because you see things differently?

From HERE.


jaragon said...

I thought the rainbow flag was inclusive enough- it represents all gay people regardless of their skin color. We need to be united people specially in these dangerous times

John said...

Thanks for posting this. I've been stunned by just how strong a lot of my friends who are normally quite liberal have responded to this. Act Up co-opted a lot of mainstream symbols for their messaging, and the folks in Philly are simply doing the same thing. If they were looking to generate dialogue, mission accomplished, and good for them.

Atagahi said...

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of the flag and its message. I appreciate your view, Kenneth.

As for myself, I like the intention and message of the Philadelphia flag, but aesthetically it's butt ugly. Frankly, it kind of messes up the rest of the original symbolism by inserting racial stereotypical colors which is so problematic to me that it seems that it supports systemic racism, instead of helping eliminate racism within the community.

I'm not even sure where I fit in the two stripes. Are we Natives the red stripe or brown? I'm not sure which is intended. Actually, I suspect that once again we were simply forgotten or disappeared. What about Asian LGBT people? What stereotypical color should we use for them? Why just two stripes representing two stereotypes instead of four or more? What about those of us who are multiracial? Do we get different stripes with shades of the colors? (In reality, POC are various shades of brown.)

I often write about the racism within the LGBT community. It's definitely there and I am sure some of the blowback about this flag is from implicit racism allowed to run unchecked. For some, it's even explicit racism.

But for some, it takes Gilbert Baker's artwork and modifies it in a way inconsistent with the original intent of his artistic expression. Without delving deeply into moral rights law for artists, I think this offends the principle of allowing artistic expression to remain as the artist intended.

As a Native man, I never felt not included by the rainbow flag. It's symbolism wasn't about race or other aspects of the community. "Aside from the obvious symbolism of a mixed LGBT community, the colors were determined to symbolize: life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), harmony/peace (blue), and spirit (purple/violet).[17] The removed colors stood for sexuality (pink) and art/magic (turquoise)."

Adding black and brown stripes that have very dissimilar symbolism to the original flag's symbolism seems wrong, even if we set aside the racism of using stereotypical racially assigned colors for some racial minorities but not all. It's just jarring and takes us away from the original symbolism into an entirely different place. I'm not sure I like that or how it does it.

We have other flags for other aspects of the community. There's a leather flag (also using black), a bear flag (also using brown), a transgender flag. Why not just create a new flag with a new design to promote racial harmony in the LGBT community? That's the model every other group followed. It can incorporate the spectrum of colored stripes but include new symbolism and iconography to better convey the intended message. Using black and brown could cause confusion with the leather and bear communities instead of accurately conveying the message of diversity intended.

I really like the alternative below -- it speaks to defiance and power within the message of diversity. There's more than just two colors used to represent all POC, defying the stereotypical assignment of colors to races. It seems a much more inclusive and powerful icon than the Philadelphia proffer.

I do appreciate that the Philadelphia flag has brought the issue out and into open discussion. We definitely need to address implicit and explicit racism within the community, just as we need to discuss and resolve other prejudices.

Tom said...

I thought the rainbow was inclusive of all. Where does this end? A grey stripe for older LGBT?, a cookie stripe for chubbies?, perhaps a bacon stripe for bacon lovers?

David in Houston said...

Fundamentally it's no longer a rainbow flag... period. Either it's a rainbow flag that's inclusive of everyone or it's not. Adding a black and brown stripe change the meaning of the flag. Make a new flag that has six shades that go from brown to black, and you're good to go. But don't bastardized the rainbow flag for your own personal agenda, regardless of the well meaning of the people that did it.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@David: Should the Constitution not have been "bastardized," too?

Anonymous said...

What I don't like about it is that I think it has two negatives:
A- No stripes for Asians Pacific Islanders middle easterners et cetera because they're not the persons that this group has in mind, although they are all properly included in the rainbow.
B- The lack of understanding that acceptance is within all of us and we can all decide to feel accepted and valued or we can spend our lives finding. I could have spent my young life worrying that people thought I wasn't gay enough and I was too white or I was too large to fit into gay clothes in the gay Shops and so on.

If they're doing this to call attention to the fact the people of all colors bring their prejudices with them whether they're queer or not, okay.
If they're doing this because they're serious about changing the flag I'm sorry they are a small group of sorry angry assholes who don't care that they're pissing on the graves of my dead friends

Bob K

Jeffery said...


Brett Gleason said...

THANK YOU KENNETH! I'm so sick of the 'aesthetics' argument - FUCK AESTHETICS, let's be inclusive and make sure not just white gay men get all the progress, okay? The flag is a powerful, visible symbol and this is just one more version of it, no one is taking away anyone's version of it.

Tom said...

My take in order of priority:

1. It takes a symbol of unity that has nothing to with race and makes it divisive over race.
2. IF it's to be "more inclusive of people of color" why does it then ignore Asians? And don't say Yellow as that's offensive to Asians (e.g. "yellow peril").
3. I've lived in Philly, and this flag is the byproduct of a group that speaks for only a fraction of the community.
4. It violates the intent of the original design. Yes, so did ActUp and even the South African Pride Flag, but they never violated the original intent of inclusiveness. This does while claiming to be more inclusive.
5. Odd that they waited until the creator died before they pulled this..
6. It's no longer a rainbow and it's ugly.

WillnSYV said...

Sorry it is pandering to not say that it is just wrong. The flag is for everyone regardless of race, creed ...

Co-opting the flag is not acceptable; other communities have used the theme but their own colors. Go for that you will have my support.

The one with the power fist overlay, that is great graphics and also one I would proudly fly

David in Houston said...

Our Founders designed the Constitution to be amended. The flag was designed to be inclusive of everyone. It doesn't need to be amended. I also think the comparison is a false equivalency.

David in Houston said...

If the argument is, amend the rainbow flag to be more inclusive... even the though it's already inclusive, why don't we amend the American flag with a brown and black stripe? How is that any different?

Unknown said...

I find it rich that people defending the change frame the issue as one of symbolism evolving but proceeds to paint those who object to the change as "dismissive" of other people's point of views.

It is ironic that expressing opposition to altering an iconic symbol is deemed "dismissive" though the changes alters the very essence and meaning of the symbol for a lot of people. Who's truly dismissive now?

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