Paint the whole world with a rainbow
Posted on 29 Jan 2020

There’s more to having a rainbow as a symbol of inclusivity than meets the eye...

I was talking to someone the other day who, while outwardly appearing normal, turned out to be something of a turnip. He was describing a spiritual experience (to be honest, I personally feel it was more meteorological than spiritual, but hey-ho) in which a rainbow appeared after a period of rain and heralded a time of dry weather. “Of course,” he then declared with sadness, “our homosexual friends have now taken the rainbow as their own”. The way in which he said ‘homosexual friends’ made it very clear that he would be horrified to find that any of his friends were gay, and also that, quite possibly, his only friend was his mother. He wasn’t pleased to hear this.

It had never occurred to me before that people might think that the gay community had somehow sullied rainbows. There are few things in this world that are genuinely experienced by all people in a very similar way. Rainbows are a thing of beauty and wonder, and the vast majority of us look at them in awe before getting on with the rest of our lives. Okay, some people think they’re made by an omnipotent being, others understand all sorts of stuff about light and refraction, arcs and water droplets, but fundamentally we all just think they’re lovely and that we are somehow privileged to catch a glimpse of one. Even better if you get a photo to post on Instagram.

Spiritual people, people who believe in peace, people who like British rock music of the 1970s, leprechauns and people who think it takes all sorts to make up the world have long enjoyed the rainbow as a symbol of their love. The gay community has worked under the rainbow logo since the 1970s, as it’s a beautiful symbol of togetherness, love and peace. The fact that George, Zippy and Bungle got involved was, of course, an unexpected bonus. Incidentally, trying to write this article is tricky, as the Rainbow theme tune is persistently and loudly up above the streets and houses playing in my head, pushing out all other climbing high words…

Of course, school did try to take some of the joy out of the rainbow by insisting we learnt the colour order using the worst possible mnemonics they could think of - Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. Could there be anything more boring with which to describe something so ethereal? I am ashamed of myself that I can still remember something so dull. Randy Orangutan Yesterday Gave Blowjob In Vienna. Better?
The first flag designed around the rainbow theme for the gay community included a hot pink stripe as well as traditional indigo. Sadly, hot pink proved impractical, as people were primarily making rainbow flags out of old t-shirts and nobody could bring themselves to take scissors to their hot pink ones. Or so mythology would have us believe. But fundamentally the rainbow flag works because it is so immediately recognisable and simple - and has changed so little throughout its history.

The idea that gay people have ‘taken’ the rainbow is an odd one. It doesn’t even feel like the rainbow is there for the taking, given that it’s so universal and so universally experienced as a positive thing. And it’s as a positive thing that the gay community use it too. As a positive thing and, just as importantly, as a symbol of inclusivity.  


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