rainbow flag
Philadelphia’s new rainbow Pride flag, which includes black and brown stripes, was raised at its city hall in June 2017. (Photo by Kelly Burkhardt / City of Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs)

The LGBTQ community, known for its feisty debates, has gotten into another one over whether or not black and brown stripes should be added to the iconic rainbow flag.

The debate went viral earlier this month when Philadelphia raised a rainbow flag with brown and black stripes outside its city hall as part of the More Color More Pride campaign, whose goal is to increase the visibility of LGBTQ people of color.

“In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker designed the original rainbow flag, an iconic symbol of LGBTQ+ unity,” the More Color More Pride campaign notes. “So much has happened since then. A lot of good, but there’s more we can do. Especially when it comes to recognizing people of color in the LGBTQ+ community. To fuel this important conversation, we’ve expanded the colors of the flag to include black and brown. It may seem like a small step. But together we can make big strides toward a truly inclusive community.”

The debate has crossed the country and is taking place in Los Angeles on Facebook and other social media outlets.

“No, the LGBTQ flag doesn’t need black and brown stripes added,” says Thomas Blackwell of Palm Springs. “The rainbow was chosen because it already consists of ALL colors (representing all races, nationalities, walks of life, etc). Seriously, how daft are some of these “social warriors”? Beyond that, there’s the aesthetic; Poop rainbows aren’t pretty, folks.”

Ryan Glasgow of West Hollywood disagrees. “Drama over the GLBTQ Flaggotry is silly and mean. Of course the brown and black stripes belong. And… as the colors all run together over time, (knowing the GLBTQ community) the flag will probably evolve even further to be one color that includes all colors. (And then probably a catchy slogan?) But for now, as more people find new ways to identify with their own unique experience as Humans on this planet, our community should be a place where they can feel safe, and that flag is beacon of welcome, not exclusion. Let the flag evolve the way our GLBTQ Culture is evolving. And…. giving the rainbow back to the unicorns some day, seems only fair. And not just the gay ones. All unicorns deserve the same rainbow freedom. Is that not what we really stand for?

“Dear anyone who has called me a racist with white priv. cause I don’t want the rainbow flag changes… go f-ck yourselves,” posted WeHo’s Jimmy Palmieri.

“There has been a lot of discomfort expressed over the fact that Philly chose to re-mix the Pride flag by incorporating Black and Brown,” said L.A.’s William Thill. “Rather than perceive this decision as some transgression to the “sacredness” of the Pride flag, or some accusation that we are enemies, Let’s be wiser and more reasonable. Let’s recall that the Pride flag has LOTS of versions and variations. Bears, Lesbians, Trans, Leathermen, all have a re-mix of the Pride flag. Furthermore, let’s also not feel threatened by the possibility that we white male gay folks might have something to learn from those that experience gay life differently than we do. Bringing awareness does not create enemies – let’s not perceive an opportunity to grow as an accusation.

The rainbow flag does have quite a history. Gilbert Baker created the gay rainbow flag in 1978. Since then there have been hundreds of other iterations, most archived on a website created by Peter Orenski, a noted vexillographer (the term of art for a flag designer).

Baker, who died in March, wasn’t the first vexillographer to create a rainbow flag. The Inca Empire in Pre-Columbian America used one in the 1400s. The Indian mystic Meher Baba created one in 1924. The World Fellowship of Buddhists has used one since 1950. And an Italian peace movement used one in 1961. The rainbow flag even is used in the Wu-Wo tea ceremony, a Taiwanese rite.

It’s clear from the occasional efforts over the years to come up with a new flag that some gays are over the rainbow. In 1998, for example, Out magazine commissioned leading designers to come up with new concepts after its editor, James Collard, rattled gay community cages with his proclamation of a Post-Gay world. None of those ideas stuck.

And in 2011 Studio 360, Kurt Anderson’s Public Radio International program commissioned Mark Randall’s Worldstudio in New York City to come up with options for a new flag, none of which took off either.

Andrew Blauvelt, a graphic designer and curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis — described by London’s Design Museum “as one of the most influential figures in U.S. graphic design…” — has blogged about his apprehensions regarding the flag.

“The rainbow’s colorful panoply has always been something of a problem for me, not so much its symbolism but for its cheerful aversion to aesthetic conviction,” Blauvelt writes. “While I am an ardent believer in the adage that there is no such thing as a bad color, just poor proportions and combinations, the spectral glory of the rainbow has always been a kind of third-rail of chromatics. I know, it’s supposed to represent inclusion — no visible wavelength left behind — but aesthetics is supposed to be about choosing one thing over another: the right colors, not all colors.”

Undaunted by the past failures of other designers, WEHOville, our sister publication, several years ago asked Jorg Wallrabe’s BrandingIron Worldwide to try its hand at crafting a replacement for the rainbow flag.

BrandingIron, West Hollywood-based, is a design, branding and marketing firm whose clients include IMG, Warner Bros., Swarovski, Telemundo, Art Basel and Sony. Wallrabe turned the task over to a team of talented young designers who attacked it with enthusiasm.

Peter Orenski also has connected WEHOville with professional vexillographers Philip “Doc” Tibbetts in England and Tony Burton in Australia. Both were eager to offer the gay community their own stylish options. You’ll see what they came up with below.

Should black and brown stripes be added to the rainbow flag? Should the flag, which many feel doesn’t reflect the gay male community’s obsession with style, be entirely redesigned? And if so, what should that design look like.

GayLifeLA would love to hear your suggestions in the comment section below, and we’d love to share any images you find or create for a flag that reflects what this disparate LGBTQ community is all about.  Just email them to henry@gaylifela.com


Click on the images below to see all the options presented by each designer.

Branding Iron Flag

Renowned WeHo Brand Experts

BrandingIron Goes Sophisticated

Branding Iron Flag

Over the Pond

Brit Flag Pro Goes Greek with Design

Branding Iron Flag

The Aussie Take

Sydney Designer Balances Gaudy, Glitz


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