Over the last few months we have witnessed children’s drawings of rainbows popping up in windows to show appreciation for the NHS and to inspire hope during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as this symbol catches on, people are confusing the seven stripe rainbow peace flag with the six stripe rainbow gay pride flag.
While this may seem unnoticeable to the majority of people, distinguishing between the two prevents the erasure of the symbolism of the rainbow flag for LGBTQ+ community in the UK. Usually rainbow flags are recognised as a symbol of pride and demonstrates solidarity or alliance with the queer community, but as rainbows are becoming synonymous with the NHS, it takes away the significance of the rainbow flag as a LGBTQ+ symbol.
Although the misuse of the gay pride flag is unintentional, it is a result of ignorance which comes across as a lack of respect and consideration for a community who have been using the flag to represent their identities for over forty years.
The reality is that LGBTQ+ people still face inequality and homophobia in this country, it’s easy to forget that gay marriage was only legalised in 2014, and remains a crime in many places across the world. Having the rainbow flag as a symbol of pride allows LGBTQ+ people to celebrate their identities, but it also represents years of struggle and injustice, which makes it upsetting to see the gradual erasure of the history of the rainbow flag, through its association with something else.
We still witness accusations of queer people ‘shoving it in peoples faces’ and criticisms of ‘unnecessary’ gay characters in TV, which inherently proves the need for more LGBTQ+ representation in the media. It’s these same people that are ridiculing the LGBTQ+ community for expressing their discomfort with the misuse of the rainbow flag.
With this month being pride month, there are fears of rainbow pride merchandise being rebranded as an NHS symbol. This has already been seen when Plymouth Citybus announced they were rebranding their pride buses to show appreciation for the NHS. They have since apologised after receiving backlash from LGBTQ+ people on Twitter.
Even through public pride festivals have been cancelled, due to COVID-19 regulations, June still holds significance for LGBTQ+ people as pride month across the world. The rebranding of rainbows as an NHS symbol in order to make profits reinforces the idea that big corporations engage in pride celebrations for show rather than genuine support for the queer community.
The support and appreciation for the NHS is completely deserving and wonderful to see at this time and by no means should children stop drawing rainbows to display in their windows. However using the six stripe pride flag to show appreciation for the NHS is a sign of ignorance, while it’s not intentional, it reduces the significance of the rainbow as a LGBTQ+ symbol.