During this year’s Pride Month, Philadelphia in the US may be the first city to have a symbolic recognition of racism as an intersectional issue amongst the LGBTQ+ community. A redesigned Pride Flag was unveiled in Philadelphia City Hall by the local office of LGBT Affairs and the ‘More Colour More Pride’ campaign. The revamped flag included black and brown stripes to represent LGBTQ+ people of colour.
So what inspired Philadelphia for the redesign of the Pride flag? According to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, there were reports of racial discrimination in Philadelphia’s gay neighbourhood, called the ‘Gayborhood’. Such reports included a leaked video of a local night club owner using racial slurs at gay African-Americans. In the wake of this, Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenny pledged that ‘racism in the LGBTQ Community is a real issue’ and will ‘do whatever else we need to do’ to make sure the city adopts the recommendations made by the Commission’s report to tackle this issue.
Generally, the gravity of racism within the LGBTQ+ Community is undermined. As stated by Amber Hike, Executive Director of the Philadelphia’s Office for LGBT Affairs, gay white men have a typical presumption that the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag already represents and accepts everyone. In reality, people of colour in the LGBTQ+ community face a double-edged sword of being victims of homophobia within their ethnic community alongside racism within the LGBTQ+ community. Based on interviews made by Brown in 2008, Gay African-Americans are forced to ‘make the choice to live openly or stay behind closed doors’. Essentially, such people must choose between stifling their identity and subjecting themselves to violence. In fact, research by Comstock has shown that ‘lesbians and gay men of colour were more likely to experience being chased or followed, hit with objects and physically assaulted than their white counterparts’. Therefore, supporters of the redesigned Pride Flag believes that the new black and brown stripes enable a symbolic image that racism and homophobia are acknowledged as an intersectional and serious issue.
On the other hand, critics of the renovated Pride flag argued that the Pride Flag is not about race. They claimed that the racial symbolism of the black and brown stripes are not thematic with the other colours representing ‘sexuality, life, healing, sun, nature, art, harmony, and spirit’. The new flag has also been criticised for being counter-productive of being divisive rather than inclusive of people of colour. According to Dennis Jansen, the black and brown stripes imply that white people are the “default” members of the LGBTQ+ community and that the new colours imply that any flag without black and brown stripes are therefore excluding people of colour.
In the grand scheme of things, although this redesigned flag is well intended for the POC community, I am not convinced that it will do much beyond giving symbolic recognition of racism within the LGBTQ+ community. As clearly mentioned, racism and homophobia are dire issues in our society. If we wish to tackle it, we must go beyond symbolism. It’s about us accepting that we cannot be ‘colour blind’ with our politics anymore – race does matter – in order to fully acknowledge race issues and persistent activism. Through this approach, we could create legislations and a society to protect minorities against systematic and institutional racism and homophobia.