On 23 May 2022, the Indonesian government summoned British Ambassador Owen Jenkins on the grounds of disrespectful behaviour towards the cultural and religious values of Indonesia. This happened in reaction to the British embassy’s decision to lift the pride flag next to the British one in support of the International Day against Homophobia (17 May). Yes, it turns out that there is much more at stake behind such a seemingly innocent piece of fabric.
Originally, flags, banners, and emblems were designed to differentiate between friends and foes, to orient rallying points, and to signify leadership on the battlefield. They first emerged in what is now China under the Zhou Dynasty before being adopted by European empires in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Quickly, their original strategic purpose became entangled with their ability to represent a group of individuals, signal nationhood (or identity), and ascribe meaning to reality. Flags are symbols of social solidarity but can also be about dominance and subordination depending on how one navigates public spaces.
By being lifted aloft above our heads, flags hold a mysterious, symbolic, and powerful aura where whoever stands beneath the venerable banner subjects themselves to its purview and whoever does not are marked as rivals. The symbolic power of this cloth may either unite communities together or tear them apart, where its symbolism becomes a point of tension warranting it to be burnt down, torn, or ripped apart. Displaying a flag may be seen as a political act, especially for minoritised groups seeking to show their presence in public spaces. In the early 20th century, who did not see the suffragette flag and the symbolism it represented for the right to vote?! Whether purple-white-gold (US) or purple-white-green (UK) with each colour having a significance; purple for freedom and dignity (running through the veins of every suffragette), white for purity, and green for hope or gold for light and life.
As hinted at previously, LGBTQIA+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalized sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close flags also carry a heavy symbolic significance, both for queer individuals and so-called ‘anti-LGBTQ+ ideology’ individuals. Walking down the streets and seeing a pride flag flying around may be seen as a gage of support, allyship, and acceptance. It demarcates and indicates safer areas for queer communities. But, what are the origins and meaning behind the different pride flags?
It is on a beautiful day in 1978 in San Francisco that Gilbert Baker, an activist, gay military veteran, and drag queen created the first celebratory symbol for the queer community. Yes, the pride flag was born and had then 8 colours with each its specific meaning; hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for harmony, and violet for spirit. However, due to the high prices of the colours (for printing), both the turquoise and pink stripes were removed to form the queer banner mostly seen today. Yet, the pride banner keeps evolving in inclusive ways.
In 2017, the city of Philadelphia added two stripes, one black and one brown, to the flag in order to better represent the inclusion of queer people of colour within the community since despite their foundational role in the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement (Stonewall riots), they often face discrimination and marginalisation in white (and gay cis-man) environments. While this flag is about queer inclusion and intersectionality, it still missed some elements. In 2018, queer, non-binary activist, Daniel Quasar designed a new “progress” pride flag, incorporating the light blue, pink, and white colours of the trans community, defining the black stripe as honouring individuals living with or lost to HIV/AIDS, and including a forward arrow on the left side showing that the LGBTQ+ needs to keep going since progress still needs to be achieved. Lastly, in 2021, the intersex-inclusive progress pride flag, designed by intersex activist, Valentino Vecchietti, saw the light of day and incorporated the intersex symbol within the progress pride flag.
Flags are more than mere pieces of fabric, they can act as the evidence of inclusion, intersectionality, and struggle(s) for equality. Go check the vast array of LGBTQ+ flags here.