In 1978, San Francisco artist, Gilbert Baker, was the creator of a flag containing eight stripes, one for each color of the rainbow, signifying something different with each: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for the human spirit. The flag eventually lost two colors; pink because of a color shortage, and indigo to keep an even number. This six striped flag is what is known today as the gay pride flag.
However, half way through Pride Month 2017, and Pennsylvania has taken the opportunity to unveil a new and “improved” pride flag. The pride flag, which had been unveiled on June eighth of this year, now includes not six but eight different colored stripes. The colors are generally the same as the original flag pattern, however at the top are a black and a brown stripe in order to represent the people of color in the gay community of Pennsylvania, otherwise known as the Gayborhood.
Pennsylvania's LGBT affairs director, Amber Hikes, is a strong advocate for the additional stripes, having played a strong part in the movement from the beginning. The stripes are a part of the movement, More Pride, More Color, which highlights the issue of racism in the gay community and was developed by Tierney, a local ad agency with ties to Philadelphia's Office of LGBT Affairs.
In an interview with CNN, Hikes states that the “vast majority” of the push back have been white men of the community. She goes on to say “White people do not know what racism looks like, because that’s the definition of racism.”
And that is precisely where the problem lies.
The pride flag was created with the intention to celebrate the gay community in general, those who were queer, with the expectation to conform to those standards that man must marry woman, and transitioning was just obscure and wrong. The gay pride flag was made to celebrate those who love who they wish and were not free to be themselves. Nowhere was the gay pride flag ever a symbolism of race, not for white or black or hispanic or what have you.
The community is a community about love, not race.
Let it be said that the flag itself is not the problem with the movement. In the year 1969 a movement known as the Stonewall Riots. In the midst of these riots were two transgender women of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Marsha P. Johnson would often be asked what her middle name was, and always answered “pay it no mind”, in reference to the attitude she held about people who asked whether she was a male or female. She grew up New Jersey but moved to New York in the 1960s. On June 28th, 1969 the Greenwich police raided the gay bar which lends the name to the riots, the Stonewall Inn.
Sylvia Rivera had been a friend of Ms. Johnson, and a witness to the stonewall riot as it happened. “This was started by the street queens of that era,” Rivera once said, “which I was part of, Marsha P. Johnson, and many others that are not here"
Johnson and Rivera, founded the transgender rights group STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. STAR had a shelter for homeless trans teens and drag queens and fought for the inclusion of trans people under the umbrella of gay rights. In 1992, Johnson’s body was found in a river, and no further information is known about her death.
The flag in itself is not a problem, but the use in which it was intended for is. The community needs not to be separated by race, but joined by one flag. Hikes said recently, “When other variations of the pride flag have been introduced, such as striped flags representing bisexual or transgender pride, there was significantly less criticism.”
The reason the flags in question are different from this flag is because the flags in question are still representing sexuality. The flags in question are representing smaller communities under the same rule of thumb, and there is one for everyone to belong to. The flag that is being created now is not for the community, but for the people of color within the community, and them alone, when the original flag was nondiscriminatory in the first place.
If the flag must have two stripes stitched onto it in a show of respect, let it be for heroes of the movement specifically, not for a generalization of an issue that runs unrelated to the movement in itself. Let it be to remember heroes who witnessed the riots and the blood that was on the streets, not for a few strewn slurs. Let it be to remember Marsha P. Johnson, and those who started the movement before it was safe to do so. Let the flag continue to be a symbol of an entire community, and not build unnecessary lines through a community.