Taking part in pride events and pride marches is an act of peacemaking.
“It’s peaceful activism because even though it might be a show, a concert, it’s a gathering, it’s also a stand for the community saying ‘we are here, we are among you and we going to stay that way’”
— Paul Houldsworth
Some people today see two different stands of what it means to take part in a Pride event. There are the organised prides which have been authorised by the local authorities and are where the LGBTQ+ community and allies are able to celebrate and express what it means to be part of the community today. This is representative of how many Pride marches are now in the UK and US.
For some, this goes against the original founding of pride. The first Pride marches were acts of defiance and protest at the social and cultural norms that oppressed them. They were a defiance and rejection of authority but also at the legal framework that criminalised and oppressed LGBTQ+ people.
Around the world this more radical version of Pride prevails because of the continuing repression of LGBTQ+ people. In Russia, whilst same-sex activity between consenting adults in private is legal, promoting homosexuality is not and Moscow has banned pride for the next 100 years, yet activists continue in the face of adversity. In Chechnya, part of the Russian Federation, there have been anti-gay purges. In Istanbul, after a pride march in 2014, its now been banned every year since, with those turning up shot at with rubber bullets by police. In Uganda, the first pride was held in Kampala in 2012 in extremely hostile conditions. Prior to the event the country’s gay rights leader was murdered following the release of his name and address in a national newspaper.
This demonstrates the ongoing violence and oppression aimed at the LGBTQ+ community, and the defiance shown by those who continue to campaign peacefully in such a hostile climate.
The idea of a rainbow flag as a symbol of pride for the gay community was made by Gilbert Baker, a gay activist in the US. He was tasked with creating a symbol by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California. It is thought Baker was inspired by the peace rainbow that was widely used within the peace movements of the 1960s, and by Judy Garland’s song ‘Over the Rainbow’. Garland was a gay icon and had died a few days before the Stonewall Riots.
The flag was first flown at the Gay Freedom Day Parade held in San Francisco in June 1978. It first had 8 colours, but due to the limited availability of pink and light blue dyes these colours were removed, leaving the 6 colour version which is still used today. Demand for the flag increased after the assassination of Harvey Milk in November 1978.
Today there are various versions of the flag to represent different sections of the community, including the inclusion of black and brown to represent people of colour. There has been disagreement within the LGBTQ+ community about this inclusion because some feel the flag already includes everyone it needs to include. But people of colour argue that they often feel excluded from the wider community and the flag would show the wider communities support for them.
In March 2020 the covid-19 pandemic began around the world. Our lives changed as people were locked down at home and keyworkers (such as NHS staff and supermarket workers) continued to work under difficult and life-threatening circumstances. The rainbow symbol was adopted by many as a symbol of hope during this time and used as a way to say thank you to the NHS and its staff who have been at risk whilst caring for those with the virus. It was drawn by children and put up in windows, put on the sides of buses, and a company who designed the Aston Martin logo released a special rainbow NHS badge that was sold to raise money for NHS Charities.
However, some people felt that by using the rainbow as a symbol for the NHS, it erased the importance of the symbol as a tool for LGBTQ+ communities.
We asked Usman, a local resident and active member of Bradford's LGBTQ+ community for their opinion on the use of the rainbow:
“Yes, it creates a dangerous situation in which queer people may believe someone supports them/recognises them when in reality they could be in a completely unsafe/homophobic environment. The co-opting of the rainbow to celebrate the NHS /key workers is just another example of how capitalism exploits. It isn't interested in supporting a cause, or having a stance, it is interested in profit. Companies just turned all their pride merch into support the NHS merch, when they continue to be spaces in which lgbtq+ people are not safe/supported/valued. And finally, it demonstrates a very sinister use of symbols/motifs by the Government to distract during times of crises. This was all about supporting the NHS and key workers and yet nothing has actually changed for those workers. The symbol allows people to feel they are doing something, and association of that symbol, creates a mask/shield behind which the Government can hide (reminiscent of war time). On a very basic level, being brown and queer, [the use of the rainbow in this way] it’s very disorientating. People who are openly homophobic, are wearing a symbol that means something valuable to you. It's a sick joke. The level of cognitive dissonance to realise that just because a street is displaying rainbows, does not mean you are safe walking down that street.”
What do you think? Let us know on social media.
Find out more by visiting our Peace and Pandemic digital exhibition:Visit the Exhibition