Image Credit: Bill Nichols
The current global pandemic has created an inordinate amount of strain and stress on healthcare systems across the world, as well as the workers who operate within them. I feel extremely blessed to live in the UK, having access to the NHS and its free-at-service care when I need it. When I had a suspected case of the Mumps late last year, they were extremely helpful and accommodating in assisting my treatment. I think we should do everything we can to show our support to these heroes working on our front lines right now, risking their lives every day to make sure we and our loved ones are being cared for. However, we don’t need to give them the universal symbol of LGBTQ+ Pride to show them our appreciation.
Now, this is a controversial topic, so let me stress, right now, that I am not against the NHS using the rainbow as a symbol for hope. The LGBTQ+ community does not own rainbows and they never will, it’s a thousand-year-old symbol for hope that is very fitting for the heroic work the NHS is doing at the moment. They really are providing hope for the millions of people in this country that are isolated and scared right now. My problem, and the problem of numerous LGBTQ+ activist groups and individuals, is the use of Pride’s distinctive (but admittedly not very well clarified) six colour rainbow flag as an NHS symbol, when traditional rainbows have seven colours.
The most high profile example of this would be a bus, typically decorated for the pride season in Plymouth, being rebranded as a bus to show NHS support, without re-doing the colour scheme. Maintaining the six colour flag emblazoned on the side is ever so slightly erasing the identities of those from the LBGTQ+ community that would usually look to that bus for acceptance and support and find that it is no longer there to support them. The ease at which this swap was made leads to the major concern I have about the rainbow NHS branding; it's a lack of education about the pride flag, its uniqueness and why it’s really important not to erase the identities of LGBTQ+ people just to support another group. The NHS and LGBTQ+ communities can be intersectional!
The Pride flag, as I’ve said, is a six-colour rainbow consisting of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Each colour has its own meaning, and the story for how those colours were agreed upon is truly fascinating. The missing colour from a traditional rainbow and the symbol being used by many for the NHS is indigo, and I understand that seems like a minute difference, but it really does matter. Since the pride flag was adopted it has been a foundation upon which many people’s identities have been strengthened. It is hugely important to LGBTQ+ people. To callously convert pride symbols into NHS symbols is wrong, not because the LGBTQ+ community own the rainbow, but because it shows those that have made the U-turn for who they are because they’re not true supporters of the flag they emblazon on their merchandise.
Any seller, as has occurred on eBay, that’s using repurposed Pride merch as NHS support flags is either ignorant of the six colour pride flag, or never cared about it in the first place. In some ways, I’m actually quite glad about the misuse of the pride flags, to highlight those that are making the mistake and not apologising for it (which, to its credit, Plymouth’s bus company did). My partner pointed out that when all this is over, there will be a number of homophobic individuals that own pride merchandise without realising, which made me laugh but is also easily avoided.
There really is a simple solution to this problem. The NHS can keep the rainbow, that’s not in contention, but count your colours, everyone. If your flag has six, not seven it’s not for the NHS. You’re showing your support to the LGBTQ+ community, and we thank you for that, but the NHS needs support too, show it appropriately.