Jake Weinraub

Claiming Rainbow Pride

Filed By Jake Weinraub | March 11, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Cape Town, cape town pride, Gilbert Baker, hugh brockman, pride, rainbow flag, south africa

Hi everyone! I thought I'd make my first post a conversation starter.

MCQP_Flag_Launch.jpgSo last week wraps up some of the LGBT Pride events in Cape Town, South Africa, an opportunity for some queer Capetonians to unveil their new South African LGBT flag. The new flag takes the well-known rainbow design and adds the diagonal lines of the South African flag. Designer Hugh Brockman said last year, "I truly believe we put the dazzle into our Rainbow nation and this flag is a symbol of just that...look at all these costumes, this event, even Cape Town at large. It is a testimony that we as the Gay community have a lot to offer in skills, talent, inspiration, business and life."

Going through my blog roll, I came across a blog entry posted by my friend Keletso Makofane, a South African activist currently studying at Columbia University in New York. Keletso writes,

This flag represents to me, a single story of gayness. Gayness is white, affluent, young, male, attractive, fun, liberated, talented, worldly, classy. Gayness is "dazzling" with "skills, talent, inspiration, business". As pointed out by the website of Cape Town Pride, "It is an international fact that the LGBTI market is both affluent and influential. On the whole, South African LGBTI individuals are high-yield, trend-setting, brand-conscious, loyal and have ample disposable income." This is not possible with our high poverty and unemployment rates. Obviously CTPride is not talking about all of us.

Keletso got me thinking more critically about the rainbow flag as a symbol for the LGBT community: who can claim it, and cannot?

Gilbert Baker, who created the rainbow flag in 1978 said, "there's an old saying among flag makers: A true flag can never be designed, but is torn from the soul of a people." His flag represented a "colorful and optimistic alternative" to the pink triangle symbol. It seems Hugh Brockman had a similar idea with his LGBT flag for South Africa, but I question who listened to that informs his design.

Keletso continues,

The flag was designed by few, is owned by few, but it claims to represent many. In doing so, this flag does not unite us, it obscures our own brown, fat, skinny, old, female or poor faces and voices. It places us behind the white, affluent, male, young... It tells only one of our many stories.

In the West, the rainbow flag has become a staple of the LGBT movement. Its colors consistently decorate most every pride parade, resource center, or queer-friendly establishment in the US or abroad as a recognizable, unifying symbol. It allows us to recognize our spaces, but it also pretends they are safe for the whole spectrum of queer people. The stories of horizontal oppression shared on this blog are a testament to the very real ways the queer community isolates its own members along intersecting identity lines, all under the veil of rainbow flag unity.

What do you think? Is the rainbow flag a useful symbol or does it minimize our lived experiences of queer identity? Is there a better alternative that will reclaim the soul of our current movement?

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You mean a new design that will symbolize all that we want until it also becomes co-opted and reduced into a singular identity?

The quest here should be reclamation, not cut and burn.

great point! make it work for us!

Thanks for this post, Jake. I've never heard the rainbow flag called controversial before, and I think it's an important point. The idea of the flag is that we are a coalition. Taking down my LGBTQ America Today Encyclopedia (2009 Greenwood Press) and looking under "Rainbow Flag" (written by Sara Munoz), I find that in addition to this, "the original rainbow flag had eight horizontal bands of equal width, each with a different meaning. From the top, they were hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit." (The stripes for sex and art were eliminated in 1979.) But the question remains whether we recognize that we are a coalition of many races, genders, ages, religions, etc. I think many do. Some don't. We need to work on that.

Like any symbol it is meant to show organization and unity. When we try to define a large movement of so many its not about what the symbol says as it is about us.

We should worry about how we define ourselves and keep symbols as they are meant to be. It is the call to be who you are that matters. If someone took the time to try and create a symbol to unite us, like it or not, someone did something to help.

When we debate its value you have already missed the point it has you here and your talking about it. So how bad can it be?

Pride starts with you. The question is can you show pride in the work of others trying to help us all?


Honestly, whenever I see the flag, I think muscly shirtless white gay guy at the Pride parade. That's why I don't rep the rainbow: it doesn't really make sense a a symbol of my brand of queerness. Nothing wrong with shirtless guy, and he doesn't need to be pushed out of the room for the movement to function or anything. But as a symbol, the rainbow flag has been overloaded with a number of assumptions and ideas that make it more specific than simply "gay/queer pride".

Razzmatazz | March 12, 2011 2:17 AM

Congratulations SOUTH AFRICA. You are an inspiration for us in the USA! GO SOUTH AFRICA! This has made me decide to take a trip down there with 8 friends!! LOVE YOUR GAY FLAG!!! You guys are BEAUTIFUL

My point was that, in fact, the symbol does not show organization and unity. It is a reminder that even (especially!) within the queer world, race, class and gender privilege allow some people to speak for others. Mine is a criticism of process, not design. The design is not relevant, it would not matter if it were a giant picture of a unicorn.

Frankly, I think it is ridiculous that if organizations want to use the "official South African LGBT flag", they have to go through the middle-class men who own it. I think we should note (with concern) that it was launched not in the neighbourhoods where a queer presence in the street would MEAN something politically - not in Langa, or Khayelitsha, or Mitchell's Plein where queer people face enormous violence. It was launched at a queer party for middle class folk surrounded by many young privileged torsos.

There are organizations which work everyday creating spaces where men and women and people who identify as neither can be safe. They should get a say as to how they will be represented and they should also OWN their symbols, not lease them.

We have a wealth of muffled voices in South Africa. I demand that they start being heard. Privileged queers cannot continue to speak for all of us as if they know what we all need. They dont.

This flag is another missed opportunity to build a diverse and democratic queer community.

Seems like Keletso has not heard about what the lgbt flag of SA is doing to raise awareness for corrective rape of black lesbians in places lile Gugulethu! There are very brave black lesbians flying this flag outside their windows in the townships. Monday a large group of people are marching to parliament (with the flag) to speak to tje SAfrican government who do not acknowledge corrective rape as a hate crime. Viva the gay flag of South Africa!

I did hear about the march and the use of the flag, and I also know that Ndumi Funda (who I have worked with) endorses the flag. I did some organizing of marches in Cape Town last year with people from Khayelitsha around Corrective Rape. I still object to the way the flag was created. And I am still frustrated by the lack of dialogue between middle-class queers and working-class queers about the specific needs of the working class queer community. We need more than a talisman. We need middle-class queers to stop presuming to create things for all of us, and start creating things with all of us. It is the creation that would do something (in my opinion), not the flag itself. We already have a flag (the rainbow one) after all.

Each flag that is created without the wide participation of working class people, each Pride march that is planned without the wide participation of working class people is a missed opportunity to form a movement that will address the needs of all of us.

I am happy that the flag and the petition by Lulek' Isizwe have created a moment in which queer issues are talked about in mainstream press. I am concerned that this moment will pass in a few weeks or months, and we will go back to a fractured and ineffective movement.

OK- Trying again (HOTBOYZZ HERE)

For those of you interested in finding out about the LGBT flag of SOUTH AFRICA and what they have already achieved since the launch in December 2010 – please watch this 6min video (a recording that was live on TV)


Did you know that our African Lesbians are being CORRECTIVELY raped in the townships of South Africa? This is not even seen as a hate crime there! The flag is being used as a tool to raise awareness for corrective rape (and of course many other lgbt issues, and I saw amazing pics of it onkine at Cape Town Pride last weekend)

What a great idea! I wish more countries would do this. Great to see people so ACTIVE, instead of passively sitting at home bitching about issues or what OTHER people have done. Why do we bitch so much?

Any way- I have gone online and got myself one of these flags! www.p2-ink.com

PS See cute flag launch video

Rev Scott Imler | March 12, 2011 6:24 AM

I've known Gilbert Baker for many years and while I didn't know him at the time, I attended the 1978 S.F. Parade where his 8-striped rainbow made its debut. It was my first and Harvey's last. I personally cherish the rainbow as our tribal symbol for three reason and believe we should preserve and defend it as such.

I've heard Gilbert tell the story many times and have shared vicariously and actually in the excitement and power with which the original 8 striped rainbow flag resonated among those in attendance that day. And I've always been fascinated to hear Gilbert's almost reverent retelling of the story and the fact that the stripes did not represent the notion of a political coalition at all but rather, as Dr. Jillian notes, represented aspects of life shared by all of creation. They weren't caucasian, African America, or Latino stripes, they weren't labor or veteran or anti-war stripes, they weren't even lesbian, gay, or transgender stripes -- they were life's stripes, they were freedom's stripes, stripes of sovereignty, stripes of humanity, stripes of aspiration of, by, and for a people too long denied their birthright of self-expression.

The second reason to keep raising the rainbow is of course Judy Garland's theme song from the Wizard of Oz. How many of us as isolated and confused young people (or old people for that matter), alone with our secret, unable to confide in another living soul didn't yearn for that magical place Somewhere Over the Rainbow, where our clouds were far behind us, where our troubles would melt away. Tribal lore tells us that Judy's death just before Stonewall contributed to the uprising. And while credible accounts dispute that, few deny the sense of esprit de corps that emerged spontaneously among the crowds of gay men who had flocked to the upper Eastside funeral parlor at the corner of Madison Ave. and 81st St. the afternoon of June 27, 1969. Some had rainbow ribbons, some scarves, and some had little crystals that cast dancing rainbows all over the sidewalks as well as those in attendance. As many of them recognized each other, many for the first time in the light of day, a realization of collective identity began to dawn, as the first self-images of "people-hood" emerged amidst Judy's fans; a people-hood whose borning cry in the early hours of the next morning would ignite a liberation movement and circle the earth in a clarion call for dignity, and justice, and freedom.

And the third reason I say let the rainbow fly? To quote Mahalia Jackson and the the 9th Chapter of Genesis, "God put the rainbow in the sky" as a sign of God's everlasting covenant with all living creatures upon the earth", which brings us full circle to the "stripes of life"that were Gilbert's original colors.

So if we need a rainbow renaissance let's return to the original colors and let them represent the global genetic diasporas of Gaydom. But, if you'll pardon a pastor's passion, to those looking to use the symbol as a political clever, don't fuck with the rainbow, because you'd be in way over your head.

pastor scott