It’s hard to keep up with the daily outrages nowadays. Almost everyday, I have to sit down and catch up with the news that I’m supposed to be mad about. Usually, in true Filthy Dreams fashion, I laugh and brush it off–maybe post a tweet. But, sometimes people’s bad reactions–and lack of shame voicing them publicly–really burns my toast. And this time, it’s the response to the added black and brown stripes on the new Pride flag in Philadelphia.
For those of you who have been fixating your outrage on Katy Perry’s cultural appropriation or Trump’s daily Russian dalliances, let me quickly fill you in. The More Color More Pride campaign in Philadelphia created a new flag with black and brown stripes in honor of queer people of color, celebrating the importance of racial and ethnic justice in LGBTQ politics. Seems quite mundane, no? Isn’t any gesture toward inclusion a good one, even if it’s symbolic? Well, apparently not. This got more than knickers in a knot.
Why the need for a new flag? Well, recently, Philadelphia has seen an onslaught of racism and anti-blackness in their “gayborhood” including a bar owner who was caught using the “N” word and several businesses that had discriminatory dress code practices. Classy. Therefore, to make their commitment to queer people of color official, the city decided to create a new Pride flag.
In an interview with NBC, Executive Director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, Amber Hikes explained, “It’s a push for people to start listening to people of color in our community, start hearing what they’re saying, and really to believe them and to step up and say, ‘What can I do to help eradicate these issues in our community?’”
Well, instead of doing that, a bunch of folks, namely white gay men, decided to have a conniption about the new stripes. The criticism ranged from saying the new flag was “ugly” to even claiming that the new flag was racist itself because it didn’t include a white stripe. I can’t.
Now, most of the criticism seems to hinge on the original intent of the rainbow flag designer Gilbert Baker who made the flag in the 1970s. One argument is that the flag is supposed to denote gender and sexuality rather than race. As one tweeter said, “That new pride flag with the brown and black stripes is so fucking stupid LGBT is sexuality and gender not race lmao.”
However, do you know who the only people that can decide whether a given topic is about race or not? White people. People with intersectional identities can’t just decide to solely concern themselves with sex or gender.
And this desire for racial and ethnic blindness or post-race politics points to an ugly part of LGBTQ history. I mean, it’s not just Philadelphia that has had a problem with racism in their community. Even in New York, Chelsea gay bar ReBar has recently been accused of racism. Historically, there is also a wide range of gay bars and clubs who were accused of discriminatory door policies. And you just have to look at Grindr to see how race and ethnicity work in sexual politics with men requesting “no chocolate, no rice, no spice.” I mean, there’s even an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to Racism in the LGBT Community.
In addition to outright racism and discrimination, there’s also the enduring problem of erasure in LGBTQ history. I mean, remember Stonewall? The Hollywood film had an attractive corn-fed white boy toss the first brick rather than Black trans woman Marsha P. Johnson. I’m sorry but I can’t pay that no mind.
In fact, the arguments against the new stripes on the flag basically outright confirm the need for those stripes. How ironic! As Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Black and Brown Workers Collective, told Mic, “The fact that two stripes have triggered the online and offline responses that it has, it just proves that there is entrenched racism and anti-blackness [in the community].” They’re right and it’s downright embarrassing.
Aside from the flag’s intention to be about sexuality and gender rather than race, much of the other criticism seems to center around the historical sanctity of the Pride flag. One commenter on Refinery 29 writes, “I would have loved a new flag for LGBT people of color, like the trans and other flags. That’s NOT what this is. This is an effort to force a REDESIGN of the rainbow flag. But, of course, any objection to doing that is just met with a racist and sexist attack on the critic.” Oh boo hoo!
Despite this commenter’s dismay, the flag has been redesigned several times. When the rainbow flag was originally conceived, with all the colors representing hippie dippie themes such as red/life, orange/healing and violet/spirit, Baker imagined two extra stripes–hot pink (representing sex) and turquoise (representing magic/art). Those fell by the wayside quickly and yet, it proves that the flag is, of course, not set in stone. Why there are tons of variations of the flag from the trans flag to the bi flag. During the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, activists even added a black stripe for AIDS awareness.
The thought that the rainbow flag is somehow this unchangeable icon is just so hilarious too. I mean, let’s talk about the sanctity of the Pride flag. Who hasn’t seen a drunk sorority girl plastered in rainbows following her gay best friends to Pride so she can yell, “YAAAAAAS” at some drag queens. But, those rainbows smeared on her eyelids sure better not contain black and brown. Please.
Now probably one of the most hysterical and shared responses came from the mouth of Lady Bunny, who posted an extended rant on her Facebook page that was akin to the old queen yelling at kids to get off the lawn. Now, I should say I love Bun Buns and her politically incorrect humor and in fact, have praised it on Filthy Dreams. However, even admirable queens deserve an eye-roll now and again.
Bunny began her rant with, “Let’s cancel gay pride. Instead let’s just fight over the f#ing flag this year!” Ok! She then moves on: “Lets fight over the correct terms for everybody. Let’s dismiss everyone who doesn’t want to transition as a privileged cisgender. Let’s spar over the name of our own damn community–is it gay, LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA or did we bring back two spirits yet? I also saw a Y in there recently and have no idea what that even is.” Oh boy.
Now to all the people sharing Bunny’s post with “This is everything” and “Exactly,” tell me: how is being conscious of preferred pronouns or adding stripes on a flag that might mean something to someone else about YOU? How does it oppress YOUR life somehow? No tell me, I’m curious. It seems a little too close for comfort to the victimization that people on the Right like to claim against progressives. Because they can’t spew hate speech, they are somehow oppressed. This, unfortunately, isn’t too far off.
Bunny then goes on to say, “Let’s admit right now that we hate each other as a community, and that we’re too ungrateful to celebrate the freedoms which we do have once a year.” Now, I could have Whitney Biennial PTSD but this reminds me of some entrenched curators and arts workers’ responses to Hannah Black’s letter to have Dana Schutz’s garbage painting Open Casket removed and destroyed. Many people pointed to the fact that the biennial was the Whitney’s most diverse yet. Why are we supposed to just sit and be placated with small victories? That’s not how progress works and it’s ridiculous to expect that because things aren’t horrible for you, that there isn’t still much work to be done. How do you think any of these advances were made? Not by telling others to be quiet and appreciate.
She also asserts that we should be focusing on bigger issues of inequality like “equal housing and employment.” Sure. But, can’t we do both? Is a black and brown stripe on the Pride flag really going to take all the community’s resources? And who is primarily affected by these inequities Bunny cites? Oh right, queer people of color.
Now, after the 2016 election, it became very clear that sexuality and gender identity don’t always trump (nudge nudge) whiteness. Just look at the Log Cabin Republicans or Twinks for Trump. Sometimes, as John Waters says, gay is not enough.
And just maybe for those who do have progressive opinions and yet, still pearl-clutch over a new flag in one city, there should be a lesson about knowing when to shut up. It’s equally radical and important to know when to be quiet and make space for others to talk as it is to speak up when necessary. Knowing when it’s time to listen and let others speak is a tool that more of the community can and should learn.
This has been a Filthy Dreams public service announcement.