To mark the start of LGBT History Month, PSA lead for LGBT members, Paul Court, has shared a blog on the importance of 'flags':
Let me flag up LGBT History Month…
Let me flag up LGBT History Month…
Flags. We raise them, lower them, fly them, wear them, burn them, wave them, kill for them, surrender with them. Each one can bring a sense of identity, emotion, safety, unity and belonging. A simple piece of material. Yet a fabric that can often define who we are as individuals more than any other symbol, crest or kit. Our beliefs and values are knitted within its design.
In LGBT History Month I hope you will indulge me as I talk about the most recognisable symbol of the LGBT+ community – the Rainbow Flag. I don’t want to talk solely about its history, although there is an interesting tale to be told, but I want to tell you why I think the flag is so important to those within the LGBT+ community.
Commissioned by Harvey Milk and designed by Gilbert Baker, the flag was first flown at San Francisco Freedom Day Parade in the summer of 1978 and was formed of eight horizontal colourful stripes each with a different meaning: Hot pink (sex), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), turquoise (magic), indigo (serenity) and violet (spirit).
The observant amongst you will notice that the flag in the picture above only has six colours. So, what happened to hot pink? Out of all the colours, it was surely one of the most important. After all, it was the pink triangle that was reclaimed by the LGBT+ community after it was used by the Nazis to identify “gays”. In 1978, the tragic assassination of Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay elected official in California, caused a high demand for the flag’s production. However, the manufacturers couldn’t get hold of hot pink fabric and so they simply left it out. Eight colours quickly became seven. Then in 1979, the organisers of the San Francisco parade wanted to decorate two sides of the parade route and so they needed an even number of colours to make the split. Sadly, turquoise lost out, leaving the six colours which you see today.
But it doesn’t end there. As history unfolds, we continue to see further changes to the original flag in the form of a Pride flag “reboot”. In 2018, US designer Daniel Quasar created the Progress Flag, featuring an arrow of black and brown stripes to represent people of colour whilst also including the pink and baby blue of the Trans flag. He commented that the arrow pointing to the right shows “forward movement, while being along the left edge shows that progress still needs to be made”.
And of course, the Rainbow flag isn’t the only flag to represent members of the LGBT+ community. There are many others illustrated within this blog that represent other sections of the community – some you may recognise and you can learn more about here.
But who really cares about the LGBT+ flag?
Well to answer that question, let’s have a quick look back in history to 2020. In May, European diplomats caused controversy in Iraq when they raised the rainbow flag with the Iraq foreign ministry commenting “we do not allow the hoisting of the homosexual flag on our land”. In June, the homophobic Russian President, Vladimir Putin, mocked US embassy staff who flew the flag suggesting it reflected the sexual orientation of the staff. And then in August, three individuals were charged in Poland with “desecrating monuments and offending religious feelings” after rainbow flags were hung on several public monuments. And so, it appears people really do care about this piece of rainbow fabric.
But whilst it seems to matter so much to those who are less tolerant and oppose it, it matters so much more to every LGBT+ person for whom it represents. So why is this flag so important? As someone who travels frequently, that small rainbow flag at the front of a hotel reassures me that my partner and I are less likely to have the awkward conversation about whether we want a double bed or two singles, or whether we meant to book just one room. The flag hanging from a shop front gives me a subtle reassurance that maybe I am walking in a safe neighbourhood where it is safe to hold hands. And sometimes the flag just tells me that there is a good night out waiting inside. Wherever it is, I will always spot a rainbow flag.
But if you really want to know the power of the flag I would encourage you to watch the short video of Carrie Evans. As the first openly lesbian elected official in North Dakota she confronts the homophobes who oppose the flag being flown in her city with a passionate speech: “The flag shows that I live in a city that appreciates and embraces me and the people of my community and that I can live here and feel safe”. Well said Carrie.
So, the next time your force raises the LGBT+ flag, take a second to watch as it flutters in the wind and as you do, know that there will be many people for whom it means so much to see a Police Service flying a symbol of their community.
Until next time...
P.S If the content of this blog has captured your interest, keep an eye out for a book arriving to a force near you called “Pride”. You won’t miss it as the cover is the LGBT flag but inside there are many other stories relating to our LGBT+ history. The Police Superintendents’ Association has kindly purchased a copy of this book for every policing organisation in the UK. I hope it sits proudly on coffee tables across the country and is seen by many. Happy reading!