It has now been over a year since UBC’s rainbow Pride flag was burned down during the university’s annual OUTweek in February 2016. OUTweek is meant to bring recognition to students of diverse sexuality and gender identity backgrounds, and the burning of the rainbow Pride flag brought to the forefront a grim reality: not everyone agrees with what the flag stands for.
According to UBC student Brooklyn Fink, a transsexual woman who burned the flag down, “I intended in burning the flag only to illustrate my displeasure at the university’s failure to come to an agreement on the fact of the flag’s offensiveness.” As Fink stated in a VICE article, “I would like it if transsexual wasn’t included in LGBT.” What was clear in her motivation behind burning the flag — whether or not such an action was justified — is that Fink wished to express her disagreement in having her trans identity grouped together with the rest of the LGBTQ2+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, two-spirit) community.
Considering UBC’s rainbow Pride flag burning, some of you may be familiar with a more recent controversy within the LGBTQ2+ community regarding the rainbow Pride flag once again. There has been talk about adding black and brown stripes to the current rainbow Pride flag.
The addition of black and brown comes from Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, which unveiled the new Pride flag this month after saying, “It’s a push for people to start listening to people of colour 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?’”.
On the other hand, disagreement to the addition of the black and brown stripes has stirred concern. One article from the Truth Revolt argues, “but wait, where's the white stripe? Is the flag — which now also has to represent skin tones — now discriminating against Caucasians?”
Since Gilbert Baker designed the original rainbow Pride flag in 1978, multiple interpretations of Pride flags have been created to reflect the nuanced identities within the LGBTQ2+ acronym. Take for example, that the colours blue, pink and white symbolize transgender people; pink, purple and blue for bisexuals; and black, grey, white, and purple for people who are asexual. Adding new colours to the Pride flag is not unprecedented – only this time black and brown are being considered to be added to the mainstream rainbow Pride flag rather than as a separate flag.
As a member of the LGBTQ2+ community, I personally have no issue with this.
I have no issue with adding black or brown because I acknowledge that right now, black and brown bodies are facing a disproportionate level of backlash within the LGBTQ2+ community for trying to make Pride parades political again by addressing the needs of their members who have not reached full equality yet. I know, controversial stuff, but I am siding with whichever groups of people currently continue to face ongoing systemic discrimination.
With that being said, is backlash to adding black and brown to the rainbow Pride flag in response to a certain demographic of LGBTQ2+ people who are seeking to assimilate into mainstream society? Does this assimilation include a resistance to political fragmentation?
According to Amin Ghaziani, associate professor of sociology at UBC and Canada research chair in sexuality and urban studies, we are living in a “post-gay” moment.
In a press release, he stated that our modern era is “characterized by a rapid assimilation of gays into the mainstream, not to mention the assimilation of straight culture into queer cultures as well.” In Ghaziani’s research of Princeton University’s LGBT student organizations’ name changes over a 38-year time-span (1972-2010) showed that LGBT student organizations gradually started to name themselves as more aligned to being as expansive and inclusive as possible — names like “Pride Alliance” replaced student organization names that had previously been more about distinct identities such as with the “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alliance.” I don’t think it is a coincidence that UBC’s very own “Pride Collective” follows this cultural shift too.
By moving towards an “Us and Them” rather than an “Us versus Them” logic, the change in LGBTQ2+ student organizations reflect the LGBTQ2+ community moving towards assimilation and inclusivity. No longer do some members within the LGBTQ2+ community see a need to distinguish themselves as separate from mainstream society. By understanding this important cultural shift in our society from Pride parades to LGBTQ2+ student organizations, how might we make sense of adding black and brown stripes to the rainbow Pride flag?
While considering the addition of black and brown to the rainbow Pride flag, Ghaziani raises an important point to consider from an interview previously conducted by UBC: “Pride parades have become more community celebrations than political statements … [in which] concerns arise about the viability of distinct queer culture.” These “distinct queer cultures” are visible in the annual Vancouver Dyke March, Vancouver’s Queer People of Colour march last year, Winnipeg’s first-ever Transgender March this month and more recently the March on Pride in Vancouver in response to the police presence in Vancouver’s larger upcoming Pride parade this year. What these marches all share in common is a shared queer culture that is significant enough to be made into a separate march distinct from the annual Pride parade. Similar to how there are different types of Pride flags for transgender, bisexual, and asexual, there are different types of marches that signify contextually unique political needs.
If there are multiple iterations of the annual Pride parade through separate marches, how might these help make sense of the controversy of adding black and brown stripes to the rainbow Pride flag? I think that as long as discrimination towards racialized black and brown queer people exists, the need for their existence must be acknowledged in the additional colours of the flag to reflect the most contemporary cultural issues in our society.
Just like how many of us make an effort to recognize and acknowledge that we are on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh land here at UBC as a form of activism until Indigenous rights are achieved, I see the additional colours to the Pride flag as a similar move — to soar with pride until racialized discrimination ceases to be an issue within the queer community.
So where does UBC proceed from here? Does UBC consider adding a black and brown stripe to the Pride flags they fly during their annual Pride week? Or does UBC consider raising the additional transgender flag, bisexual and asexual flags too? Such questions have no easy answers and should invoke deep critical thinking about the meaning of inclusivity within the LGBTQ2+ community.
In an ideal society, I would think that one symbol — which has undoubtedly been the mainstream rainbow flag — should represent and include everyone. But if it takes adding black and brown to the rainbow Pride flag to spark a discussion over the needs of racialized queer people, I am all for conversation starters about fighting against racism in the form of two additional black and brown stripes. Whether or not UBC chooses to add black and brown to their Pride flags next year, I hope that a conversation has precipitated over the fact that racialized issues are indeed relevant to the LGBTQ2+ community and are deserving of their own political rights.
Andy Holmes is a 4th-year Honours Sociology student doing a Minor in Critical Studies in Sexuality. In 2017 he was designated a UBC Wesbrook and Premier Undergraduate Scholar.