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The Rainbow Dilemma or The Case of the Vexed Vexillologist

Jun. 13, 2017
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Milwaukee’s Pride weekend is now a memory. Complementing the weather, it was a hot one. PrideFest, the Pride Parade, an Equality Rally, street parties and all the rest made it memorable.

There was a Pride surprise, too. No, it wasn’t a presidential LGBTQ Pride Month Declaration (although I reposted President Barack Obama’s from ’16 on social media as a buck-up, all-is-not-lost reminder of the way we were).

It was, instead, the hoisting of a new Rainbow Flag. It happened in Philadelphia, as here in Milwaukee, and across the country for that matter, LGBTQ people of color have been sidelined. In an effort to restore their inclusion, Philadelphia’s LGBTQ leaders devised a remedy. To underscore its community diversity, they added black and brown stripes representing people of color to the traditional six of the Rainbow Flag. Unfortunately, although well intended, I believe the altered emblem is a poorly contrived Band-Aid for a deeper problem that requires more than a feel-good solution. Besides, the now top-heavy design destroys the context of the flag’s original intent.

When Gilbert Baker (1951-2017) designed the Rainbow Flag in 1978, he chose the rainbow colors to define the attributes of the nascent LGBTQ movement for equality. Red, orange and yellow represented life, healing and sunlight; green, blue and violet symbolized nature, serenity and spirit. These were universal values beyond the confines of ethnicity, race or gender. Besides, he was no doubt aware of the Brotherhood Flag that represents the races of man with its red, white, yellow, brown and black stripes.

To serve people of color, I might opt for another variant of the more than two dozen flags currently in use by LGBTQ community subgroups; these are to the Rainbow Flag as our state flags are to the stars and stripes. Through color combinations and design elements, each identifies the subgroup’s intrinsic nature. For example, the Bisexual Pride flag uses three horizontal stripes. The top is pink and the bottom is blue with the middle a convergence of the two, making purple. Most flags are traditionally arranged horizontal stripes.

A POC Pride flag could use broad black and brown stripes at the top and bottom of the field with six narrow rainbow stripes through the center. Or, better yet, it could use cultural references—like textile designs, many of which have their own symbolic meanings—as a vertical bar at the hoist end. That bar could make up the first quarter or third of the field with the remainder consisting of rainbow stripes. An African American Pride flag could display a classic Ghanaian Kente, Afro-Caribbean or traditional quilt pattern. The design could vary according to the locale or culture of the local community. A New Orleans flag could use a Cajun design, while a Cuban one might well suit people of color in Miami. Hmong appliqué, Chinese brocade or Sioux beadwork could all serve to declare cultural heritage.

Aside from preserving both the aesthetic and purpose of the original Rainbow Flag, these variations, like those for Bisexual Pride, Leather Pride and all the rest, would signify an identity within the LGBTQ coalition and more suitably present our diversity.


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