FOLLOWING THE June 12, 2016 terrorist attack on the Pulse gay club in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people died, the rainbow flag was raised across the globe in tribute to the dead and injured.
This prompted British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to say: “I can’t think of any other symbol that has such global recognition and adoption. Since the early 1990s it’s become ubiquitous. It shows the diverse spectrum within the LGBT community, but also reflects the diverse spectrum of the wider community.”
Sadly, last week I learned that the man who created the original rainbow flag in 1978, artist Gilbert Baker, died at the age of 65.
I met Gilbert in 1980 in his home city of San Francisco when he was 27 and I was just four years older. Neither of us, at that time, had any inkling that his flag would have such an incredible impact on the world, nor that it would, in 2015, be included among the exhibits at SF’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Gay and gay-friendly establishments in every country in which the rights of LGBT communities are respected – from Spain to South Africa – proudly display the flag as a gesture of welcome, and it serves as a beacon to anyone travelling abroad in search of places where they know they will get a friendly reception.
Now here’s a word you’ve probably not heard before: vexillography. It’s the art of designing flags, and I’d never heard it until Baker told me with a wry smile that he was a vexillographist. Later, he went on to design flags for countries and heads of state, including one for the King of Spain.
Before the rainbow flag took off, the symbol adopted by the gay community was the pink triangle, appropriated from the Nazis, who used it to identify gay people. A yellow star was used to mark Jews.
Baker said that because it had come “from such a horrible place of murder and holocaust and Hitler we needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag – it’s from the sky! And even though the rainbow has been used in other ways in vexillography, this use has now far eclipsed any other use.”
But not everyone is happy about the use of the rainbow flag at gay events, and by businesses keen on attracting the “Pink Pound” or the “Dorothy Dollar”.
Just last week, a very stupid American called Bryan Fischer, a Christian radio host for the American Family Association, tweeted: “Worst example of cultural appropriation ever: LGBTs stole the rainbow from God. It’s his. He invented it. Gen. 9:11-17. Give it back.”
Well I have news for Fischer and hate-filled religious imbeciles like him. A talented, compassionate gay man, not some mythical god, conceived of the rainbow flag to combat bigotry and intolerance and we’re not going to give it back. EVER!