The Pride Flag Has a Representation Problem

Flags are political symbols, borrowed from the vocabulary of nationalism, with similar overtones of citizenship, belonging, borders. They represent what the historian Benedict Anderson called “imagined communities”—self-constituted entities, united less by shared experiences than by shared beliefs in shared experiences. “Flags as symbols facilitate sociality between strangers, inviting community between people who may never actually meet,” Elliott Tilleczek, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto who is researching queer activism, told me. Tilleczek argued that expanding the symbolic range of the Pride flag, for example, can have real-world effects, enhancing intra- and intercommunal bonds by creating a sense of belonging: “Shared symbols … can interpolate people into a collective sense of community.” …

These issues reflect long-standing contention over the use of Pride’s official symbols for the sake of “pinkwashing,” the deployment of ostensibly LGBTQ-friendly discourse by corporations and governments to obscure their participation in oppression and occupation. This includes military contractors going rainbow as a PR-friendly spin, and former presidential candidates like Pete Buttigieg slapping the anti-racist Philadelphia flag on their 2020 campaign merch while supporting policies that endanger Black and brown people.

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