Let’s not sugar coat this: the LGBTQ community, and much of America, is in an uproar right now over Philly’s recent addition to the rainbow flag. If you haven’t heard, they added a brown and black stripe to the flag to help represent LGBTQ people of color. And I’m sure by now you’ve read countless articles both for and against this addition, and heard countless reasons for why each side thinks they are more right than the other.
But, in case you weren’t aware of all that happening, we here at #Fearless wanted to take the time educate not just our readers, but ourselves, on why the change was made, and what it truly symbolized. So, instead of you rummaging around the internet in search of clues, leave that to the trusty people of #Fearless!
The History of the LGBTQ Flag*
So, in order to understand the importance of the rainbow flag we need to go back. Way back, to the 1970s when the first rainbow flag was widely accepted as a symbol of the LGBTQ community. Created by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, the rainbow flag was debuted as a way to symbolize unity and diversity in the gay community.
However, the rainbow flag has been been around for much longer, and there are many variations of it from all over the world. One in particular is from 1922, when the Cooperative Movement designed a seven color rainbow flag that helped honor Co-operators Day. However, the design wasn’t decided on until two years later, and wasn’t officially adopted as the official symbol of the international cooperative movement until 1925.
The colors, decided on by a french professor and famous cooperator, Professor Charles Gide, said that the “rainbow symbolized unity in diversity and the power of light, enlightenment and progress.”
More specifically, the colors have the following meanings according to the Co-Operative movement:
- Red: Courage
- Orange: Vision of Possibilities
- Yellow: The challenge that GREEN has kindled
- Green: Challenge to co-operators to strive for growth and understanding
- Light Blue: Far horizons, the need to provide education and help less fortunate people; to strive towards global unity
- Dark Blue: Suggests pessimism; a reminder that less fortunate people have needs that need to be met
- Violet: Warmth, beauty and friendship
This rainbow flag is still being used, but since April 2001, they have put their logo on it to help avoid confusion in other countries. Throughout history, there have been many more instances of the rainbow flag, and many variations of it, being used to symbolize peace, unity and hope.
But, we’re talking about the one for the LGBTQ community, so let’s get back to that. When Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag in 1978, it originally had 8 colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink and turquoise. However, as it became mass produced, they took out pink and turquoise and left it with the six other colors.
The colors, as a whole, symbolize diversity in the gay community, and how despite it being made up of so many different people, genders, races and more, they could come together united. Individually, the colors of the rainbow flag have tremendous symbolism too:
- Red: Life
- Orange: Healing
- Yellow: Sunlight
- Green: Nature
- Blue: Harmony/Peace
- Purple/Violet: Spirit
The removed colors of Turquoise and Pink stood for art/magic and sexuality, respectively. Probably less known is that during the 1980s and 1990s, a black stripe was sometimes added to the iconic design to represent AIDS victims.
At it’s core, the LGBTQ Rainbow Flag has always been about diversity. It’s a flag that was created to acknowledge all races, all ethnicities, all genders, all sexualities. Even outside of the LGBTQ community, the flag is used to symbolize peace, cooperation and diversity.
*All information for the above section was found on Wikipedia. Yes, I know, I hear the chorus of high school teachers everywhere screaming in unison.
Philly Adds Black/Brown Stripes to LGBT Flag
Now comes the part where we talk about the highly debated topic of Philadelphia adding black and brown stripes to the iconic LGBTQ Rainbow Flag. According to various sources, Philedelphia added these two colors to “represent inclusion of people of color in the LGBTQ Community.” This decision to alter the flag for Philedelphia’s Pride Festival came because of a very important reason: the need to fight against the city’s major problem with racial discrimination in the LGBTQ community.
The racism issue in Philadelphia has been a large enough problem that it has lead to investigations and anti-racism training in many of the cities gay bars – 11 to be exact. Philadelphia’s well meaning additions to the flag served to help spark the conversation within their community about this issue – and boy, did it.
Amber Hikes, the executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, said this about the addition of the black and brown stripe: “It’s a push for people to start listening to people of color in our community, start hearing what they are saying.”
Since the debut of the flag, there has been considerable black lash in Philadelphia, which has been predominantly from gay white men. According to Hikes, it poses a very large question of whether or not white gay men are aware of the intense discrimination and racism that takes place in their city to gay POC.
This flag is also just another of the countless alternate designs to the iconic symbol. It is not something that is being officially adopted nationally or internationally as the new LGBTQ flag, but was created with the intention of addressing concerns specifically in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ scene.
The #Fearless Opinion
I’ll admit that before writing this article, I hadn’t done much research into this issue. Despite the fact that I strongly support both causes that the Philly gay pride flag was representing, I had almost made a conscious decision to just spout off my opinion without doing the necessary leg work.
The spark note version of that opinion was this: if it it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The LGBTQ rainbow flag was never something that symbolized race, so I just assumed that making it about race was completely unnecessary. Did I understand why it was being done? Not really, but I knew that changing something that had been so iconic in the LGBTQ community seemed wrong, especially when the flag had always been a symbol of mass diversity and inclusivity.
It wasn’t until I did my research that I realized I had probably made an ass of myself on one too many statuses, and that I had inadvertently made myself part of the problem.
I had no idea that there was such an extreme disparity in the LGBTQ community regarding POC, in Philly or otherwise. I also didn’t realize that this variation of the flag had such an important meaning to the Philly gay community.
The addition of the brown and black stripes to Philly’s flag actually makes so much sense now, and I personally can’t understand why we’re all up in arms about it. Just a few minutes of research and actually reading articles turned up a completely valid reason for this change. Whether or not you believe that there is a problem with gay POC in Philly being discriminated against, that’s not for you to decide.
If you don’t live in Philly, and you aren’t a gay POC , you honestly don’t have a lot of say in whether or not there is in fact a racism and discrimination problem in Philly’s LGBTQ community. In fact, I’ll broaden it up and say that if you aren’t a gay POC, you can’t really tell someone there isn’t an issue in the LGBTQ community with racism and discrimination as a whole.
It bears repeating, so I’ll say it again: unless you are a gay POC, you have no right to dismiss their struggles; and even as a gay POC, if you have never been victimized, you have no right to dismiss the struggles of another gay POC who may have been.
I think Philly adding the black and brown stripe for their personal pride event was an amazing gesture to acknowledging a real problem in their community. It shows that they hear the struggles, they see how it’s affecting people, and they want to make a change. It’s extremely heartwarming to see it handled this way, and I stand with their decision to make the addition.
Even if you can’t grasp the concept of nationwide discrimination and racism (in general, not just in the LGBTQ community), lower your scope and just zoom in on Philadelphia. The people who commissioned this change know the people, they know what’s happening, and they see the struggle. Even if you don’t think this flag should become the national symbol for LGBTQ people, why can’t we just appreciate one city doing right by its people? How is that so hard for us, as a human race, to understand?
Their decisions impact their community, and we have no right to sit behind our keyboards mercilessly screaming about how angry we are about it if you have absolutely no connection to the LGBTQ community, gay POC, or Philly. Yet, here we are, discussing something that shouldn’t even be an issue, truthfully.
In fact, what is extremely upsetting is just how many people (myself included before this article) are so quick to pass judgement on a situation they know nothing of. You can’t just read a couple headlines and claim to understand. You can’t just go spouting off your opinion on a matter that you’ve done nothing to research. Since when did you being offended about something mean we have to invalidate and silence the struggles of others we know nothing of?
If people took more time to actually understand, and less time getting offended over what they think the problem is (when in actuality it’s completely different), we’d probably have a much more rational nation. But, it’s not that simple and never will be that simple, unfortunately.
You can draw your own conclusions of whether or not you think the additions are needed, but for this girl? I say leave Philly alone, they did an amazing thing for their community.
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