- The rainbow flag designed by Gilbert Baker doesn’t “represent” anything, especially “sexuality.” It has been adopted as a symbol of the global LGBT rights movement and LGBT pride.
- Artifacts produced within a culture express the values of that culture by default (otherwise they would be nonsensical to those who made them). This is a fundamental principle of anthropology and material culture studies: material objects are imbued with cultural values. If you want to understand what makes ‘sense’ to another culture, you examine their ‘stuff.’ Baker’s rainbow flag was produced by White people within a White-dominated culture. Therefore, it’s an expression of White-cultural values (even if it’s not explicitly “about race.”) This concept can be especially difficult for members of racially dominant groups to see (because racialized culture reflects our values and seems neutral and natural (i.e. “not about race”) to us. This is an example of “the goldfish not knowing the water is wet”….
- In a culture and society founded upon, and deeply marked, by racial difference and inequality, everything, always and at all times is “about race.” Especially when it seems to not be. The ability to produce a cultural symbol that purports to “not be about race” is, in and of itself, a symptom of White cultural dominance and the kinds of privilege it affords, such as freedom from consciousness about race.
Which is why there have been efforts to change Baker’s rainbow flag. I just don’t agree with the specific proposed changes…
Michael J. Murphy, MA, PhD, is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Illinois. He is the author of many book chapters, and encyclopedia and journal articles. Most recently he edited Living Out Loud: An Introduction to LGBTQ History, Society, and Culture (NY: Routledge, 2019). He lives in St. Louis with his husband.