by Leander Milbrecht
Many people in the UK use the rainbow flag in the Corona crisis as a symbol to thank health care workers – on the one hand, this ensures greater visibility, on the other hand, members of the queer community fear a symbol theft. Meanwhile, the power of the symbol can be seen in Turkey, where children are forbidden to paint rainbows. The politicians claim that rainbows make them homosexual.
The queer community in Great Britain is outraged – but what has actually happened? Since the beginning of the Corona crisis, pictures of rainbows have been hung in the windows of many countries, including Germany. This is supposed to suggest cohesion and give hope in these difficult times. A beautiful gesture. Also the wish of the British to thank the British health system NHS and all the staff. But with a rainbow flag of all things.
While the peace flag differs from the queer rainbow flag in the number of stripes and the peace symbol, the “Thank you NHS” flag is absolutely identical to the Pride flag. And not only that, they are exactly the same. Many online shops are said to have simply changed the name of the items. Businesslike, one might think, after all, there are hardly any pride events this year.
On the pro side of the discussion is: visibility. Does it count, then, why hang rainbow flags when everyone associates them with kissing men anyway? Does acceptance hurt if it doesn’t know anything about what it actually accepts?
This train of thought is supported, for example, by the post of Twitter user James – he shows the rainbow flag that his not very homo-friendly grandpa has put up in his garden to thank the British health system for refusing to accept the queer context. No problem, Grandpa. Thanks just the same.
My grandad who is a staunch "I've got nothing against them, but I don't want to know about it" has put this up out front and refuses to accept it's an LGBT pride flag pic.twitter.com/SAzKWgCbls
— James (@J3Lyon) May 4, 2020
However, James also criticises people who know that it is a queer symbol and use it anyway – and think that the flag could be the symbol for the NHS from now on. These people are really actively trying to steal the flag and that, according to James, is definitely frustrating.
After his post, he also reports on Twitter about many messages from people who think it’s OK to use the flag again – “because it can be anything we want”. Still others wanted to know why it could not just be a rainbow. Yeah, why not? To do that, you have to travel 42 years into the past.
History of the queer rainbow flag
On June 25, 1978 the flag was sighted for the first time – at the parade for Gay Freedom Day in San Francisco. The artist and activist Gilbert Baker had designed it for the queer community, because the rainbow is a strong symbol of community and cohesion – after all, all these colors combine to form a great whole.
Originally the flag had eight stripes, but soon the pink had to give way. When interest in the flags skyrocketed in the winter of 1978 following the assassination of gay politician Harvey Milk, the pink fabric was simply hard to come by. And at the San Francisco parade in 1979, indigo and turquoise merged into a universal blue because an even number of colors was more suitable for decoration. What remained was the flag that everyone knows today. In 2015, the Museum of Modern Art classified the queer rainbow flag as an internationally recognised symbol that is as important as the recycling symbol.
No one owns the rainbow – and in many cultures around the world it is used for other purposes, such as anti-war movements. However, flags often differ in colour from the queer symbol, as can be seen for example in this flag, which expresses the desire for peace in the Middle East and is drawn with the Hebrew spelling for shalom and the Arabic for Salām.
Erdogan believes: Rainbows make you gay
Symbols can be incredibly powerful – and the fact that the power of the queer symbol is unbroken can be seen in Turkey. There, the anti-queer movement has gained new momentum since the leader of the highest religious authority rushed against queers at the start of Ramadan (we reported). In his speech Ali Erbaş also spoke about queer people influencing and corrupting the next generations.
This now led to education officials ordering schools to prevent children from drawing rainbows. You have to imagine that: There are little children who may be frightened by the Corona crisis, painting rainbows with smiling clouds to encourage others – and the Turkish government forbids it.
If it weren’t so sad, one could be happy that the queer community has actually managed to claim an eternal natural phenomenon for itself in such a way. One could even forgive the misuse of the flag.
- gilbert: By Dirk Baumgartl
- Regenbogen_fahnen_Rockfeller_Plaza2: Phi / wikimedia.org / CC0
A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the process of building this project. Add some fuel if you'd like to keep us going!