Last year (2017) when a revised version of the rainbow flag was unfurled in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in honor of Gay Pride, it generated quite a controversy. It continues to create heated debate now, more than a year afterwards. This uproar is all centered on a version of the rainbow flag that Philadelphia chose to symbolize their support of all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, and their commitment to respecting diversity. Honorable intentions and no disrespect were intended but obviously not taken by everyone.
For those who don’t know, the rainbow flag was designed by Mr. Gilbert Baker of San Francisco, California, USA, in 1978 when it was first used in that city’s Gay Pride Parade. Since that time, it has represented the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) movement, worldwide, in place of any particular national flag and as the flag of the GLBTQ community. The flag, as designed by Gilbert Baker, is shown below:
The rainbow flag traditionally features stripes of the rainbow. As Mr. Baker originally intended, the colors symbolize the following attributes: red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature, natural), blue (harmony, peace), purple/violet (spirit). The flag, when flown or displayed, always features the red stripe at the top. It is called the rainbow flag because the six colors featured are the primary colors seen in a rainbow that appears in the sky.
The rainbow flag is disrespected by some and ridiculed by others because of the community it represents. To some members of the GLBTQ community, it supplants their national flag as a source of allegiance and pride.
The controversy was ignited when the City of Philadelphia decided to fly the version of the flag shown immediately above. It featured additional stripes of black and brown to symbolize non-white people. That version of the banner is what sparked the controversy and discord with even white supremacist hate groups weighing in on the debate (they’ll never forgo the opportunity to spew forth their hate)!
Philadelphia’s justification for utilizing a variation of the rainbow flag was that it was intended to ensure that all people were equally represented. Given the recent charges of racial injustices that have been leveled against the City, this step towards inclusion is admirable but perhaps misguided. It is probably better served by efforts to ascertain what, if any, of the criticisms against the City itself need to be addressed and then followed up by doing so.
My spouse, Aaron, and I have always thought that the design of the rainbow flag was, in and of itself, reflective of the diversity of our GLBTQ community. Neither one of us can remember when we became aware of this information (or even who instructed us of this fact) but we both know it was long before we had even met. Our thinking was that the colors of the stripes are all different because we (the GLBTQ community) are all different. The flag designed by Mr. Baker all those many years ago was intentional in representing our diversity, our differences, our uniqueness.
In composing this posting, Aaron and I asked several of our same gender loving (gay) friends about the rainbow flag and the symbolism of the multi-colored stripes. Most of these friends thought the different colors symbolized the colors of the rainbow but had no idea what the colors signified. Many thought the colors reflected the differences in the communities of the GLBTQ culture. On one point that they all agreed was that the colors of the rainbow, themselves, negated the need for stripes signifying the diverse races that constitute the GLBTQ community.
We, Aaron and I, can appreciate the gesture that the City of Philadelphia made to demonstrate inclusiveness to its citizens of color. However, the question remains, how effective a message are you sending when you desecrate a flag representing a community over which you have no authority? Yes, you have GLBTQ citizens in your city but why not institute a gesture of inclusion and cohesiveness over your City’s flag and on your City’s seal (logo).
Wouldn’t that send a stronger message than adding stripes to a banner that has meaning only to the GLBTQ community and not the remainder of your constituents? More importantly, Philadelphia’s civic leadership hopefully recognizes that given the number of complaints and lawsuits against them, more action than two mere stripes is needed to correct any and all injustices suffered. An entire re-educational effort from the top on downward is sorely necessary.
Given all of the above circumstances, neither Aaron nor myself ever recall anyone ever bestowing upon the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the authority to arbitrarily redesign or otherwise deface the GLBTQ banner. To our knowledge, there simply isn’t a group or organization within the GLBTQ community that even has the mandate to do so. There is, thankfully, no GLBTQ Parliament in existence and as capricious and contentious as our community is, I doubt that very few would ever even contemplate standing for election. No one wants all the headaches!
Government agencies should refrain from making arbitrary decisions over which they have no control and focus energies on correcting the ills and injustices that exist within their jurisdiction and mandate. After all, their own system is what’s broken, not the GLBTQ community. As fractious as we are, we are still able to host a great party and at the same time somehow manage to achieve a few positive results for our members.
Or, perhaps, the entire City of Philadelphia Council should collectively resign and abdicate their responsibility to their own constituent GLBTQ community. Now that is a sensible solution to this whole situation!