When the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide two years ago, the White House was illuminated with rainbow lights reminiscent of the Pride flag to celebrate.
For Amber Hikes and many others in the LGBTQ community, the lights were a powerful symbol of a government’s support for a marginalized community that had historically struggled to be recognized, much less openly supported.
Now Hikes, a black queer woman, is excited about a new gay-rights symbol: a pride flag with additional black and brown stripes above the rest of the rainbow. The stripes represent LGBTQ individuals of color, a group that can often be overlooked within the overall LGBTQ umbrella.
The flag was unveiled at a recent Pride Month kick-off event in Philadelphia as part of a new campaign, More Color More Pride, which aims to recognize nonwhite LGBTQ communities as part of the broader pride movement, starting with the most visible and widely-recognized symbol of the LGBTQ community.
The campaign was developed by Tierney, a local ad agency that worked with Philadelphia’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, where Hikes is the executive director.
Hikes said she shed a tear when the flag was raised last week for the first time. Others at the event had similar reactions. To the best of Hikes’ knowledge, Philadelphia is the first city to publicly and symbolically recognize racial discrimination within the LGBTQ community.
“To see this at City Hall is such a profound statement,” Hikes told CNN.
Philadelphia’s downtown gay neighborhood, called the Gayborhood, has faced multiple instances of racial discrimination within the past year, including discriminatory dress-code policies at local bars and a leaked video of a nightclub owner using a racial slur. The campaign and new flag are one way the city and the Office of LGBT Affairs are addressing those issues.
Hikes said she has already seen the impact the new flag and event have had on residents in Philadelphia as well as other cities across the country. A combination of citizens, community groups and other local government officials have reached out to her from multiple cities, including Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, to express their appreciation for the added level of visibility.
“Right off the bat, it has absolutely started a conversation, certainly in this city and beyond,” she said.
But with the nationwide support came pushback and criticism. Hikes said that the “vast majority” of critics are gay white men, a sector of the LGBTQ community that doesn’t necessarily understand the issues that LGBTQ people of color might face.
“White people do not know what racism looks like, because that’s the definition of racism,” Hikes said.
There is a presumption among gay white men that the rainbow flag already represents everyone, Hikes said. When other variations of the Pride flag have been introduced, such as striped flags representing bisexual or transgender pride, there was significantly less criticism, she said.
“If we use that logic, there should have been the same kind of pushback,” Hikes said.
According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 34 percent of LGBTQ survey respondents identify as nonwhite. The survey also found that white respondents were more optimistic about society’s acceptance of LGBTQ individuals than those who were nonwhite.