The rainbow flag is routinely defaced. What should we do about it?
Before Gilbert Baker designed his flag for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978, the primary symbol for homosexuals back then was the pink triangle, which is still used today, but nowhere near as prominently. Seeking to create a new symbol that wasn't associated with a time when gay and bisexual men were used as target practice on concentration camp shooting ranges, tortured and castrated, or lesbians and bisexual women were cast into concentration camps as 'asocials' and tortured, raped or murdered - you get the picture.
The rainbow flag was meant to be a symbol for homosexuals, by homosexuals, to serve as our own symbol everyone who is attracted to the same sex. Period.
Each stripe had meaning, and was picked for a reason. The flag became incredibly popular, particularly after the assassination of Harvey Milk. Some colors were dropped from the original design due to printing issues - leaving us the 'traditional' six stripe flag we have today. That design has proliferated into a huge number of 'Pride Flags' that are more based on the transgender flag than the original Rainbow, and dilute the meaning of the original flag even more - there are now a collection of Pride flag colors for every conceivable personality variation - sorry, gender - under the sun.
Today, that flag is totally divorced from its original context. It is slathered over corporate logos, in celebration, the vexillological equivalent of Che Guevara getting slathered all over t-shirts. Its original meaning, about "the dawn of a new gay consciousness and freedom" is lost.
But the worst part about how the flag is treated today? It is routinely defaced. It is defaced in a way that no other group of people on the planet would be expected to put up with without complaint, and it is defaced in a way that serves to deliberately erase and exclude the people that the rainbow flag was meant to represent. For any other group of people, the left would be howling about cultural appropriation of an oppressed group - but apparently us gays don’t count.
It has stripes and garish chevrons added on to it. It is devoured by all sorts of new causes - now racial politics need to be covered by the rainbow, and then the trans chevron was added, because apparently they didn’t feel represented (they have their own flag), and one variation I have seen now includes the intersex symbol as a chevron opposite to the trans chevron, erasing the rainbow even further. The original people whom the flag was supposed to represent - lesbian, gay and bisexual people in all our varieties - quite literally get erased with every new edition. These new versions are sold as 'intersectional', ‘better than the old flag’ or ‘more inclusive’. How far will ‘inclusion’ go? Will the rainbow flag be defaced to the point it becomes the everybody flag? It has become so diluted as a symbol that this will eventually become the case.
One variation calls itself 'the Progress flag'. The progress flag, a recent invention, has been rapidly adopted in the US, and the rainbow flag has been characterized as outdated. Somehow, it's suddenly on traffic crossings, flown outside government buildings or included in corporate logos. How it is ‘progress’ to erase lesbians, gays and bisexuals from their own flag?
You're not allowed to criticize these changes. Argue for your flag? Well, you're a racist, and a transphobe, and a bigot, so get with the program or get out.
That's how we end up with the workaround criticism that the original flag was 'for everyone'. That is false - it was clearly intended to represent lesbians, gays and bisexuals. It wasn't intended for everyone - and everyone knows this, otherwise, why would our flag keep getting added to? The endless chevrons look like beachheads captured by an invading force. How much rainbow will be left in ten years, twenty years? Will it get flown at all, or will the rainbow have been eaten away at completely?
This erasure on the flag serves as a deft metaphor for the reality of ‘LGBTQIA+’ activism at the moment. The first three letters, these days, hardly matter - at best we're privileged cis gays, at worst, transphobic genital fetishists. Why should we get any room on our own flag? Soon, they’ll make it so that we’re gone completely, and it will be celebrated as progress.
It’s not just the flag. We continue to lose ground in our spaces and communities - in fact, many lesbians and gays view the Progress flag as a sign their sexuality won't be respected - and that straight people's views on LGBT people, or straight people pretending to be LGB will be prioritized over actual lesbians and gays. It has a chilling effect. Organizations that hate us wear it like a wolf wears sheep’s clothing, prioritizing straight people pretending to be us while telling us gays and lesbians that our very nature is transphobic. We not only lose our symbol, but it is defaced and used to gaslight, coerce, harass, abuse, and threaten us for not accepting heterosexuals in our midst.
What do we do then? The Rainbow continues to get defaced, appropriated, and abused. Do we come up with another symbol? Do we reject the rainbow altogether, and abandon our mighty symbol to the invading force laying siege to it? Or should we do our own remix? I have seen more than a few say that we should abandon it and come up with something new.
I disagree. That is signaling defeat. We should be signaling defiance.
I propose this variation below:
I believe this sort of flag is called a swallowtail. The chevrons are removed, and the flag, while not whole, not long erases the people it was meant to represent. I am no vexillologist - I'm definitely no image editor, with my knowledge beginning and ending at Microsoft Paint. But its meaning is clear, at least to me. We won't be erased any more. Our flag is ours - get your own and stop imposing on ours. We’ve had enough of being erased from our own symbols, our own communities, our own organizations. We’re tired of being co-opted, forced teamed, and excluded from the things we’ve built.
We have had enough. We’re allowed to set our own boundaries. We’re allowed to say no.