The Flag Controversy

OK, before I start, let me put on my asbestos full-body jump suit with matching helmet…

Hang on.

Just a sec more.

Ok, there, got it.

Now… about this flag thing.

First off, let’s acknowledge the obvious: yes, there is racism in the LGBT community. Lots of it, from all sides. I dont see a whole lot of it in Canada — perhaps because, statistically, we’re about 90% white (if I remember the stats correctly) and as such, not that many people really think about race as an issue around here. It’s just not part of our history. Yes, we have our social issues, but racism, for all intents and purposes, is not one of them. You dont see black voter suppression or black ghettos or issues with integrating schools. It’s just not, by and large, how we approach such things. Certainly not to the degree that it’s played out south of our border, where it seems like everyone — black, white, brown, orange, purple, green — almost insist on playing that card to score political points.

And yes, folks, in many cases, that’s exactly what it comes down to, whether we want to admit it or not. There’s no real dialogua because everyone’s so intent on shouting over each other… and last time I checked, that doesnt really result in much of anything except hearing loss. But it’s all becoming so very, very unilateral: in Toronto, Black Lives Matter insisted the police *not* show up in uniform, and the Pride committee pretty well caved on it. Lots of public pushback, but that didnt seem to matter. Never mind that BLM blew off a moment to *engage* with the police and talk through the issues; that too didnt seem to matter. BLM had the moral outrage, and that was that. Ironically, the head of the Pride Committee sent out a message thanking the Toronto PD for promising to be there and protect the parade goers from possible harm. There was no mention as to whether or not these protectors should come in uniform to do their job.

But whatever. BLM decided cops in uniform was more than they could handle, so they demanded the police not come in uniform. And they got it. Of course, it doesnt do much to bridge the racial gap, but that too seems pretty immaterial. Instead, it’s making sure that “I win!” Yep, in Toronto, BLM won… but at what cost? A somewhat Pyrrhric one for the Pride Committee, which has been doing considerable damage control since making this decision.

And that’s my issue with this whole flag controversy. For those not up on it, some ad agency in Philadelphia thought it would be great to add black and brown stripes to the top of the Pride Flag, so everyone would feel included. Never mind that the flag *already* accomplishes that. That doesnt matter. What does matter is taking something that speaks to sexual expression and turning it into a vehicle about race.

And if you cant get behind that, well, apparently, you’re part of the problem, according to some pundit at the Advocate.

But here’s the thing: what is this accomplishing, exactly? From what I’m reading across the web, not a whole lot except stoking the racial divide fires all that much more. The only dialogue it seems to have started is one based on heightening the contrast between “them” and “us”, which results in a situation where no one really walks away happy… except, possibly, the ad agency in Philly, which spent probably all of ten seconds working on this and has seen tons of free PR as a result.

Yes, there have been countless variations on Gilbert’s original design. We have pride flags for everything from leather bois to transfolk to bears to even Canadians. But in all cases, one of two things happened: either (1) people adopted the original six colours as is and worked with them accordingly, or (2) people found their own combination of colours and created something in the same style. But you didnt see, for example, leather folk adding a black stripe to the original six to show Leather Pride. The Pride flag in all its variants wasnt treated as some kind of extension of the hanky code. We knew what the six colours meant, and we left them be.

Now, sure, I hear other people saying, “The Pride Flag isnt written in stone!” Well, sorry, but to a degree it is. It represents our entire community — such as we seem to have these days — as a visual umbrella for everyone, regardless of sex, gender identification, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or sexual fetish. We’re all in it together. The other flags — for trans folk, leather folks, asexuals, whatever you may have — work in *support* of the Pride flag. It’s our national symbol… international, more accurately, and it stands that way because it represents *everyone*.

You want a flag to celebrate race within the LGBT community? I got no issue with that. Go for it. But taking our core symbol and just slapping on two bands of colour isnt the best solution, sorry. Aside from the woeful lack of imagination, it takes something meant to represent everyone and makes it exclusionary… which seems pretty ironic considering the circumstances that brought it about it in the first place. Even more ironic, in an exchange with a staunch defender of this new flag, I asked how many more stripes we need to add to make sure everyone is included: what would be the stripe for the asexuals, for example, or the polyamourists or the BDSM folk. His enlightened response: “We dont need to concern ourselves with obscure sexual variants.” When I pointed out that he was doing exactly what straight society does to us, he ducked the issue altogether, despite my numerous attempts at getting him to answer. And of course he wouldnt — we both knew that — because it would mean admitting something about himself that he really didnt want to admit.

And that’s just as much a problem here. We no longer have a community. Now we’re a bunch of marginally communicative fiefdoms, each trying to push itself to centre stage. The answer to all of this would appear to be simple: communication. But as I said at the beginning, we no longer communicate with dialogue. We aim bullhorns at each other and shout very loudly.

Yeah, that works ever so well…

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