In Defense of the Rainbow Flag | Opinion

Photo via Unsplash.

The Pride Flag has problems — and not the kind you might think.

Sure, bigots and militant right-wingers are out to destroy the flag or stop it from flying all together.

But this is hardly surprising compared to what the LGBTQ community, itself, is doing to tear down the unequivocal symbol of LGBTQ rebellion and progress.   

Case in point: many have complained that the Pride Flag isn’t inclusive enough and that it has become little more than a tool for corporate America to extract profits from the LGBTQ community and its supporters.

Problem is, they’re terribly misguided. And misinformed.

In 1978, when Gilbert Baker created the Pride Flag, he intended for it to represent everyone.

As board secretary of the Pride Flag’s sole conservation-focused organization, the Gilbert Baker Foundation, Jay Blotcher, explained, “The Pride Flag was made for the LGBT community, yes, but it wasn’t about gay or bi or trans or any other identity, so much as it was about love and peace and representing human beings, collectively, as a species connected more by their similarities than their differences.”

He added, “The stripes on the original Pride Flag were meant to represent universal elements of humanity — things like sex [the pink stripe], life [red], nature [green] and spirituality [violet] — rather than sexual or racial identities."

The other original stripes include sunlight (yellow), healing (orange), magic and art (turquoise) and serenity (indigo). Two of the original flag’s colors, hot pink and turquoise, were soon removed because of the difficulty in reproducing them. The other colors make up the six-color rainbow flag the LGBTQ community is familiar with today.

Regardless, I had to wonder why – in light of the flag’s original design – was it necessary for the city of Philadelphia to create a new flag for its 2017 Pride Fest with black and brown stripes to symbolize the “people of color” it claimed were excluded from the original Pride Flag design? Or for Monica Helms to create a transgender flag in a similar vein? (Helms also serves on the board of the the Gilbert Baker Foundation.)  

Ignorance of the flag’s origin story was the best case explanation, as I found out. In the worst case, it was something far more questionable: some new versions of the flag, like Dan Quasar’s Progress Flag, were created, unlike Baker’s original Pride Flag, for profit.

As Blotcher explained, “Gilbert Baker did not trademark the original Pride Flag because he wanted it to be available to everybody. It was for everybody. Newer versions of the flag, like the Progress Flag, claim to be about inclusion, yet every time they’re flown, their owners reap a profit.”

To be fair, Quasar doesn’t profit every time the Progress Flag appears.  Per his website, the flag as an image is free for use by individuals and small businesses.  Where he seeks “permission” is from big businesses who wish to fly the flag to “make a profit.”

But though the site claims these efforts are all in the name of “making sure [the Progress Flag] is used properly,” another of its pages sells Progress Flags for $55, along with pins and clothing items adorned with the icon.

Quasar ignored numerous requests to be interviewed for this story in response to his motives for creating the Progress Flag.

But whatever they were, the original Pride Flag is hardly to blame.

There’s more irony here, too, in that many of the Pride Flag’s critics — some of whom undoubtedly took part in the creation of these “new” Pride Flags (or at the very least were supportive of them) — condemn it as having morphed in to a mere tool for corporate America to reap profits despite many companies’ anti-inclusive indiscretions. “Pinkwashing” was the term a 2021 article in the Atlantic utilized to describe the practice.

Yet, even the Atlantic curiously overlooked the questionable motives of the for-profit artists supposedly seeking to remedy these “issues” with their new flags.

And even if it is the case that companies engage in questionable activities while flying the Pride Flag to entice certain consumers, this is certainly no fault of the flag itself. As Blotcher pointed out, it’s not even realistic to call this practice all bad — especially in light of history.

“When the flag first flew in 1978, it would have been business suicide for a corporation to align themselves with the LGBT community. We have to acknowledge that there was progress made when major corporations fly the flag not only to woo our dollars, but also, to make their LGBTQ employees feel seen. You can’t diminish that, no matter what the company may be doing on other fronts.”

The same article from the Atlantic spoke pointedly about “whitewashed” pride events, and, just like the city of Philadelphia did in 2017, attempted to connect their alleged lack of racial diversity to problems with the original Pride Flag’s design.

More misdirection. More misunderstanding.

The fact is, as flag scholar Jim Ferrigan stated, such discourse does more harm than good for the LGBTQ community:

“The more we continue to divide and divide with all these critiques and new flag designs, the more we become apart from each other. It’s all totally contrary to the idea of inclusivity that these flags are supposed to represent.”

Ferrigan pointed out that there are 32 different versions of Pride and LGBT Flags presently, and said that “it’s like the whole LGBT world is playing capture the flag.”

“Everyone who feels marginalized feels like they have to have a flag,” he said.

Even though they already do.

And therein lies the problem. The Pride Flag, as originally designed, is about everyone.

If only the LGBT community got the message.

Correction: Jan. 30 – In the original version of this story we misidentified Jay Blotcher. He is the organization's board secretary, not president. We also added Monica Helms' position on the board for additional context.


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