Celebrating Pride Month: Rainbows and flags flying

Celebrating Pride Month: Rainbows and flags flying

Rainbows fly proudly this June for Pride Month – helping to improve the visibility of LGBT+ people. This article aims to provide a brief history of arguably the most important symbol of the LGBT+ people: The Pride Flag.

In the 1970s a number of symbols were used to represent the community, the most common being the triangle; which at first glance seems odd considering its origin.

Homosexuals were one of the groups persecuted by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps where they were identified by an inverted triangle sewn onto their clothing. The Star of David was used to identify Jewish prisoners. A black triangle was used for homosexual women, and a pink one for homosexual men, bisexual men and transgender women. 

The community has a long tradition of reclaiming and taking ownership of insults and abusive terms in order to neutralise them. For example, many LGBT+ people proudly describe themselves as ‘queer’ although others still see this as an insult. So the triangle symbol was adopted by the LGBT+ community, in part as a mark of remembrance, but also as a symbol of identity and defiance; in later years the triangle was often displayed pointing upwards, showing that the negative association of the symbol had been overturned into a positive one, and symbols like these remained in common use until the mid-1990s.

The Pride or rainbow flag was the brainchild of Gilbert Baker and first flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Parade in 1978. This parade, in common with the many Pride parades that now occur around the world, took place to commemorate the Stonewall uprising that had occurred nearly 10 years before in New York, in response police brutality against gay people. 

The six-striped rainbow flag

Since 1978, the inclusive six-striped flag design gained popularity throughout the community with the rainbow, and its composite colours becoming a powerful, positive symbol of LGBT+ Pride. By the end of the twentieth century, the rainbow was almost universally recognised around the world and became the most significant symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. When asked people often describe the flag’s meaning as ‘safety’, ‘acceptance’, ‘pride’, ‘visibility’, and ‘freedom’. LGBT+ people associate the rainbow symbol with so-called ‘safe spaces’, where they can be confident that they will be accepted and free from abuse. 

The Pride flag itself has been constant for over four decades, acting as an inclusive umbrella symbol for the community. Since its creation, several variations have been created to represent different LGBT+ identities and groups. The most common variations being the dark pink, purple and blue stripes of the bisexual flag and the pale pink, white and pale blue stripes of the transgender pride flag.

The bisexual flag
The transgender flag

In 2017 a new version of the now-familiar Pride flag appeared once again, this time with eight stripes. The additional black and brown stripes and were incorporated into the design to represent BAME members of the LBGT+ community. And only a year later the flag was modified again by Daniel Quasar to include the colours of the transgender pride flag. This latest version of the LGBT+ rainbow flag is aptly called ‘The Progress Flag’

The LGBT+ People of Colour Flag
The Progress Flag

As a Nurse and a gay woman, I feel that the NHS rainbow badge project started by Dr Michael Farquhar in 2019, was a massive step in the right direction. The badge comprises of the NHS logo superimposed on the LGBT+ pride badge. This badge, which many colleagues within my current Trust wear today, identifies the wearer as someone who has knowledge of the challenges LGBT+ individuals can face when accessing healthcare and  they have information on how to support them. This is particularly important for our younger patients who may still be struggling to understand their own identity and need to know that the person they are speaking to is non-judgmental and supportive.

The NHS Rainbow Badge

Recent reports, such as the Hidden Figures report published by the LGBT Foundation, show that in common with other minority groups, LGBT+ people have been disproportionally affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The wonderful initiative to show support for the NHS adopted the rainbow as a symbol of hope, however it has had some unintended after-effects that have inadvertently affected the LGBT+ community. 

In the UK, the rainbow has recently become a symbol of the NHS and, with LGBT+ events such as Pride being cancelled across the country, provided a new market for rainbow merchandise.

The logo used by the NHS rainbow badge project is now being displayed widely. Initially, the effect on LGBT+ people was rainbow overload, especially as the symbol for them is such a significant one. But what’s concerning is that the use of the six-striped flag is causing confusion as to whether it is identifying an LGBT+ safe-space or supporting the NHS… Hopefully, it’s both. But this relatively new use of the rainbow symbol has led to a somber feeling that the LGBT+ people have somehow been eclipsed and the symbol of their community has been appropriated by another worthwhile cause. Moving forward it is important to celebrate diversity, understand and not forget what this symbol means to the LGBT+ community, whilst continuing to support the NHS.

It is important to remember that we are all individuals and that we have all been affected by the COVID pandemic in different ways. To LGBT+ people of a certain age, there is a sad sense of familiarity, as thirty years ago an unknown virus decimated our community and many lives were lost over many years. At the time, society’s response was to abandon and isolate; but with love, kindness and consideration the LGBT+ community came together, and as a community, we survived. 

It’s safe to say we are all tired and wonder when this pandemic will end, but we should continue to use those same powers of love, kindness and consideration that have stood the test of time for both the LGBT+ community and the NHS and be comfortable with our differences.

If this article has highlighted new information, why not find out more about the challenges faced by not just the LGBT+ community, but by other minorities as well and become an active ally.

Capt Johnstone – HQ Defence Medical Services LGBTQ+ Advocate

Comments are closed.