Dear Queers: Here’s why I probably fly a different flag than you

Dear Queers (and everyone, actually):

When you hear the phrase “gay flag” or “rainbow flag” what comes to mind? Is it this?

6-stripe rainbow flag waving against a bright blue sky

Photo Credit: Ludovic Bertron from New York City, USA

Now, take a look at how Gilbert Baker, the flag’s designer, originally designed it:
8-stripe rainbow flag waving in front of a white house against a grey winter sky.

Can you see what’s missing? The original design had a pink stripe and a turquoise stripe. Did you know that Baker assigned a specific meaning to each color stripe?
Pink was for sexuality.
Turquoise was for magic and art.

There are varying stories as to why those colors were dropped when the flag went from hand-made art item to mass production. It’s said that there was a low supply of pink fabric so flags could only be mass produced without it. With 7 stripes left, some said that made the flag asymmetrical, or oddly-proportioned. I’ve seen other stories about a pole blocking out one of the stripes. In any event, turquoise was also dropped for the mass produced version, leaving us with the commonly-known, 6-stripe version we have today.

When I think about the changes to the flag and the movement for queer rights, I see some parallels in what we’ve sacrificed. Sexuality comes to mind immediately. How many times have you heard, “It’s OK if you’re gay but you don’t need to … yanno … flaunt it?” in response to something like two queer people holding hands or kissing in public. Most of our mainstream LGBT organizations spent the late 90s/early 00s crafting messaging/branding around “we’re just like you” in pursuit of goals like civil marriage rights, the freedom to serve openly in the military, adoption rights, etc.

While I am grateful for all of the rights they secured, limiting images to  lesbian and gay suburban nuclear (mostly white) families stripped away much of what it has historically meant (and still means) to be queer. They didn’t include images of drag queens, stone butches, eccentric queer artists, queers of color, or blue-collar queers in their campaigns, yet these are a few of the groups who were most instrumental in kicking off the fight for our civil rights. They shaped our culture. These campaigns pushed queer people not aspiring to conform to a heteronormative lifestyle out to the edges as a means to an end.

We shouldn’t need to hide who we are or tamp down our differences in order to be treated with fairness and respect. We shouldn’t need to sweep anyone under the rug, or put anyone in a closet because company is coming over and we want to make a good impression. Sexuality and art don’t belong at the fringes of the queer civil rights movement; they belong at its center.

This is why I fly an 8-stripe flag. The full complexity of queerness is important to me; our history is important to me. I don’t care about the right to marry the person of my choice, if it means living without sex and art.

Women’s marches all over the world yesterday powerfully renewed the ongoing fight for women’s rights. As we fight together, let us remember that while people like to refer to us as wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, etc. we are also trans women, Latinx, black women, Muslims, sex workers, artists, diabled, survivors, immigrants, sluts, crones, prisoners. We don’t need to fit any kind of palatable mold to fight, to be recognized, to be heard, to be treated fairly. If we are leaving anyone or any parts of ourselves behind, we are not moving forward.


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