It’s been a tumultuous pride season, not least because of a global pandemic and over 500 cancelled pride events worldwide.
But there has been international focus on Black Lives Matters protests, vitriol in the UK press about trans lives—J.K. Rowling.
All sat alongside a debate in the U.K. about the rainbow, a universal symbol of hope being used for to show solidarity with NHS workers, while blurring with a universal symbol of LGBT people—the six stripe LGBT Pride flag.
For the last 42 years, in the particular form of a flag with six distinct colours, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, Glibert Baker’s six stripe flag has been the internationally recognised symbol of the LGBT community.
But this year, Prides, brands and activists around the world have simultaneously and without any co-ordination, been adopting ‘The Progress Flag’ as their symbol for the community instead.
Designed by Danial Quasar in 2018, it features black and brown stripes to represent people of colour, and baby blue, pink and white to include the trans flag in its design.
From the London Mayor’s office, to Boston Pride and even cultural institutions like the U.K.’s Southbank Centre–the symbol being used represent LGBT people is changing.
And it’s all part of a drive to be more inclusive of the expansive breath of identity within the community.
What has driven the change to include new stripes?
A number of factors have driven the community to arrive at a new flag, with little discussion or debate.
Ultimately the pandemic has been at the centre of them, which is inspiring a seismic change in the way we all think.
But so has Black Lives Matters, vitriol about trans people and the NHS rainbow debate.
“The NHS ‘thank you’ rainbow, which was not actually an NHS initiative but a way for people to show solidarity and gratitude for front line workers,” TV personality Dr Ranj tells me.
“The intention was never to replace or erase what the Pride flag was and we need to remember that. But since it’s high time we recognised the value of all parts of the community, perhaps this is a good reminder to move to the Progress flag from now on.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan tells me he is proud to have flown a version of the progress flag from City Hall for the last two years:
“London is a place where diversity and difference are celebrated and embraced,” he tells me. “The LGBTQ+ community make an enormous contribution to life in our city and it is so important for Pride celebrations to reflect the rich diversity of that community.
“This flag recognises intersections within the LGBTQ+ community honouring LGBTQ+ people of colour – whose activism inspired the very first Pride – as well as different gender identities.”
Jason Jones, who successfully campaigned to overturn colonial anti-LGBT laws in Trinidad and Tobago – which could yet be returned again if the Government wins an ongoing appeal – thinks the pandemic has thrown us all into a new reality:
“Many other movements are benefiting from this, for example the Black Lives Matter movement, and so of course there has been cross pollination to the LGBTQ+ movement where finally queer trans people of colour (QTPOC) and our issues are being recognised.
“As a queer man of colour, I am very hopeful [about] the adoption of the Progress Pride Flag by the wider community, it is a huge step forward for us all.”
‘Stop polluting our flag’
For writer and creator Radam Ridwan, aversion to the progress flag from within the community, however, remains all too memorable.
“Trans activists, especially those of colour, have been using the progress flag since 2018. However, it has recently grown in prominence in the UK,” they tell me.
But when it was first used, Ridwan remembers a lot of resistance from the gay community.
There were cries of ‘gender and race are different from sexuality!’ and ‘you’re polluting our rainbow!’ from many on social media.
Most repulsively, one drag queen put a unicorn puking up the black and brown stripe on one poster for a popular Manchester gay bar’s event.
The bar went on to apologise for the action, that was in response to Manchester Pride adding the black and brown stripes to their rainbow for the first time.
“I have noticed an increase in the flag’s use by white cis male homosexuals as well as in spaces typically inhabited by this group of people such as London and Manchester’s G-A-Y now,” Ridwan adds.
“I’d like to think recent events the world has faced have allowed for a refocusing of our attention on the issues affecting those most vulnerable. So, the use of the progress flag, hopefully, means an increased awareness of intersecting forms of oppression, and therefore the need for intersectional inclusion.
“However, actions of solidarity must outmatch virtue signalling. As we see a rise in prominence of racist and transphobic rhetoric in the UK, awareness must lead to positive change.
The meaning behind the progress flag, captures where the LGBT community is right now
When Quasar reimagined the Pride flag in 2018 he wanted wanted to see if there could be more emphasis on the black and trans representation in the design of the flag to elevate its meaning.
He shifted the trans flag stripes and marginalised community stripes to the hoist of the flag into a new arrow shape.
The arrow points to the right to show forward movement, while being along the left edge shows that progress still needs to be made.
“Refusing the change means the continued promotion of a small number of people within the community as worthy of pride—primarily cis white male homosexuals,” says Ridwan.
The meaning behind the flag’s design is a perfect encapsulation of where the LGBT community stands.
We are a community that has, and is, making great progress. And yet we have so much more to do.
Not only on trans and POC representation – but for bisexual, pansexual and asexual people. And there is still progress yet to happen for the incredible spread of gender identities, romantic and sexual orientations we don’t talk about enough.