Over the past week, numerous news outlets have expressed outrage at the use of the ‘rainbow’ flag by the NHS.
The flag was originally designed by artist Gilbert Baker and debuted in 1978 with 8 stripes in San Francisco. Over the decades this has gone under several transitions as a result of fabric availability, the most common is the 6-stripe version. The colours reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community and the flag has been flown all around the world at pride events ever since. Since the beginning of the lockdown, the flag has become associated with the NHS and has been featured on colouring in pages, badges, and been chalked on the streets to celebrate the NHS and help calm children during the crisis.
The criticism of the use of the flag has stemmed from the community that created it. Before the creation of the flag a Pink Triangle was used but, the triangle was born out of division. It was created by the Nazi’s during WW2 to identify, stigmatise, and segregate homosexuals who were viewed as a virus on society in the same way that the Star of David was used for the Jews. The rainbow flag was designed to bring together the community under a flag that was born out of love for one another and not hate.
The rainbow flag is not owned nor restricted to the LGBTQ+ community, it is a symbol for what makes society great openness, inclusivity, diversity, and love. If the NHS wishes to adopt a symbol that represents those concepts, ideals then by all means they have every right and must be supported for doing it.
The criticism of the NHS for using the flag is unwarranted, the flag has been in circulation within the NHS for the past year. The badge was released in response to a survey by Stonewall UK which disclosed that 1 in 7 LGBTQ+ people avoid seeking healthcare in fear of discrimination from staff. The statistic is even more alarming when it is considered that LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk of severe anxiety and depression; with the highest killer for gay men being suicide. Therefore the badge represents an open and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ people to disclose their feelings to a healthcare professional who is confidential and impartial in their advice.
Misguided keyboard warriors have even criticised the government for ‘allowing’ the NHS to use the flag. The criticism of the Conservative government for allowing the symbol to be used is farcical. The NHS is a separate entity from the government, and they have full right to use the rainbow if they so desire. Similarly, Boris Johnson has been criticised along the same lines and even though he does notspark happiness within the community per his infamous ‘Bum boys’ slur in 1998; but, within the Tory party he is pro-LGBTQ+. He went against the whip when he voted in favour of gay marriage in England. During his tenure as mayor of London he regularly attended pride and his government is committed to have LGBTQ+ education in primary schools,I’m not denying that there is a long way to go but progress can and will be made within the coming years.
There are also bigger issues to worry about than the attainment of a flag, especially within the LGBTQ+ community itself. The community is plagued by stereotypes and barbaric divisions between each sub-section if anything the flag may serve as a barrier. A line that can serve to isolate the community from each other and from society itself. With the NHS using the rainbow banner the community can use it as an opportunity to educate the public as to what it means, what it stands for and why it is still needed in society.Sometimes the desire to integrate can lead to isolation and as a community we must not get sucked into that void.
We are lucky to live in a society where being LGBTQ+ does not result in either imprisonment or the death sentence and yet here we are criticising a flag used by an institution that embodies what it symbolises. As a gay man when I see a rainbow in a window, I smile regardless of whether or not it has an NHS badge on it and I believe that we in the LGBTQ+ community are better than squabbling over the right for a symbol which doesn’t define us. Pride is not symbolised by a flag, it is symbolised by the power of community, change and fighting for what is right, but it is also a celebration of individualism, sex, love and having a voice for those who do not. I and all those in the community should be proud that the NHS is using the flag.