Nhs Rainbow: emblem, has been at the core of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United Kingdom.
Of course, the rainbow is a universal symbol of optimism and peace that no one owns and has been around for thousands of years.
However, for the past 42 years, it has served as the worldwide recognised emblem of the LGBT community in the form of a flag with six distinct colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
Matt Hancock’s NHS rainbow emblem was also designed to indicate support for LGBT+ NHS employees.
However, in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of the badge’s initial function.
That’s because a rainbow wave is sweeping the United Kingdom, with rainbows on display in storefronts around the country.
They are a gesture of people’s solidarity with the NHS and vital personnel, similar to the weekly “Clap for Carers.”
However, some members of the LGBT+ community are concerned that their emblem is being erased, accusing some internet businesses of erasure and ignorance for selling LGBT+ pride banners repackaged as “Thank You NHS” flags.
Online shops selling LGBT+ Pride flag as ‘Thank You NHS Flag’
Some buyers would fly the LGBT Pride flag at their home “totally oblivious of the flag’s genuine meaning,” according to James Symth, who tweeted about the eBay postings.
But, as many of the comments on his tweet pointed out, he admits: “It’s concerning that the worldwide emblem of the LGBT+ community may be “overtaken.”
Another James, who told the storey of his grandfather raising the LGBT Pride Flag at his home “for the NHS,” didn’t miss the irony:
“[My Grandad] is content to believe it’s for the NHS and doesn’t want it to get any more difficult.”
“What irritates me are folks who are aware that it is an LGBT flag but argue that “oh, it’s a symbol for the NHS now, we repurpose things all the time.”
“Those, in my opinion, are the ones who are deliberately attempting to take our flag.” And those people are incredibly aggravating.”
James’ tweet went viral, and he said his mentions were filled with people saying things like “it’s fine if the LGBT flag is repurposed, since it “can be anything we want it to be.” “Why can’t it just be a rainbow?” some wondered.
What is the history of the six colour LGBT+ Pride flag?
The rainbow has taken on several connotations over the years, despite the fact that it is fundamentally a meteorological phenomenon created by light refraction in water droplets.
According to LGBT+ Museum freelancer Sacha Coward, “if you saw a rainbow in Ancient Greece, you would imagine that the goddess Iris, who was a messenger deity, had descended down to earth from Olympus.”
“It’s also a powerful metaphor for community, because all of these colours come together to form one whole, from disparate parts. And it was for this reason that Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in 1978.”
When Baker first made it for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade celebration on June 25, 1978, it actually had eight stripes.
Due to their use in Nazi death camps to indicate gay people, Pink Triangles were the worldwide sign of LGBT+ suffering before Baker’s eight-stripe flag.
After the assassination of the first openly homosexual politician in the United States, Harvey Milk, Baker’s version of the flag lost its first stripe, and demand for the flag skyrocketed.
The bright pink stripe, on the other hand, was cut because it was a difficult fabric to come by at the time.
When the organisers of the 1979 San Francisco march broke the flag in half to decorate either side of the parade route, the second stripe vanished.
To create an even number of stripes on both sides of the march, they mixed indigo and turquoise into a more universal blue.
The LGBT pride flag is made up of the colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet as a result of this.
Despite numerous alterations, such as the addition of black and brown stripes to include people of colour or blue and pink to represent trans populations, the flag remains a universal symbol.
“No one owns the rainbow,” Coward says in a recent #MuseumFromHome video about the origins of the flag.
“It is worth recognising it has varied implications for different people,” he cautions.
Indeed, the seven-stripe peace flag has been utilised as a symbol of anti-war groups.
Something that prompted similar problems in 2003 when it was utilised by anti-war groups in relation to the Gilbert Baker six-stripe flag.
Rainbows have a variety of connotations for different people throughout history, even outside of the setting of a flag.
Not least in Christianity, where the rainbow represents God’s covenant with Noah, which is a bond between God and all living things.
Is it erasure to ‘reclaim’ the rainbow Pride flag as a Thank You NHS flag?
Since James’ message earlier this week, people on social media have been debating whether they should be offended or–in the words of Twitter user Chuck–”low key p**sed off”–about the flag’s rebirth.
“I believe the symbol’s significance for our community is being degraded,” Chuck Deer says.
“Since the outbreak began, I’ve seen a lot of stuff on Twitter, including businesses using the rainbow symbol as a logo.”
“During Pride Season, some of these companies would refuse to fly a rainbow flag outside their doors.”
“It feels as if those who struggled and pushed for us to have a symbol of togetherness are being marginalised by the rainbow’s new meaning in the current atmosphere.”
“We’ve struggled for a position in the world for so long. This, I believe, has diminished our influence and position in the country and around the world.”
Chuck is clear that it is the use of the flag that concerns him, not the rainbow itself, though he acknowledges that “the association of colours still has value for many in our society.”
“Rather than utilising a symbol that has a different meaning for a big percentage of the population, there are numerous other methods to show your support for the NHS.”
Is there a worry that LGBT+ rights may be taken away as a result of the pandemic prompting calls for erasure?
Some members of the LGBT+ community may be concerned because they are afraid of change.
According to a research by Queer Voices Heard on the impact of coronavirus on the LGBT+ community, just under six out of ten (57 percent) LGBT people in the United Kingdom believe they will be worse off as a result of the epidemic.
Early indications suggest that this may already be the case.
Hungary, Poland, and the United Kingdom have all announced or undertaken changes affecting LGBT+ rights in Europe.
Hungary’s proposal, which is largely likely to pass this month, might result in trans persons no longer being acknowledged at all.
Poland’s parliament is debating a “Stop Pedophilia” bill that would make it illegal to teach sex education by falsely connecting homosexuality to paedophilia.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, equalities minister Liz Truss has hinted that gender recognition legislation, which has been long advocated for by trans activists, may suddenly result in rights being taken away from trans people rather than given to them, as many had hoped.
Since the first day of Boris Johnson’s premiership, when he postponed it, the reform has been trapped in the weeds.
Trans people under the age of 18 could be barred from transitioning if Truss succeeds in getting legislation through during the pandemic.
This is in addition to the concern that looms over the United Kingdom: what will happen if we leave the EU?
The legislative reform to end the transition phase at the end of the year will already take away some of the rights that LGBT+ citizens in the United Kingdom have.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has acknowledged an uptick in “homophobic and transphobic discourse” during the pandemic and urged all member nations not to use the coronavirus crisis to undermine LGBT+ rights.
What do rainbows have to do with this?
Against this backdrop, symbols and identification are more crucial than ever in a time of such uncertainty, when LGBT+ individuals are concerned about their future.
Those I spoke with were delighted to make a distinction between the rainbow’s universality, which only light refraction can fully claim, and the Gilbert Baker flag.
For them, the flag represents a long struggle for basic human rights, and its reincarnation as a “Thank You NHS Flag” is divisive among the LGBT+ community.