Why flags and logos matter

Why flags and logos matter

Our industry understands the importance of symbols. In an increasingly hostile climate towards LGBTIA+ people, it’s alarming that some brands are reverting to the original Pride flag to consciously exclude others.

Those of us who nurture and develop brands understand the importance of symbols and how they evoke memories of what we stand for. Everything about the way our brands are presented, from logo to literature to customer experience, is carefully curated and managed to ensure impact and a distinct identity. A simple, recognisable and important expression of both the product and service being offered and the people who sit behind it.

This so-called brand furniture is usually carefully documented in brand books and only gradually changes over time to keep up with the constantly evolving world in which they operate.

It is therefore no accident that when people are angry or disaffected with a company, they seek to deface its brand symbols. We have recently seen this with pro-Palestinian groups targeting branches of Barclays. While the violence targets property and the Barclays logo, and not people, the intimidating message is clear and I am sure the bank is on a high level of security alert.

The burning of books and flags is another well-established way for people to express their anger about ideas they don’t like. A visually powerful form of destruction, it is sobering to remember that not so long ago people were also put to death by fire. In England, death by burning was officially abolished in 1790 — just 245 years ago.

The immolation of Pride flags

This year, QueerAF and the BBC have reported a wave of arson to Pride flags in small towns across the UK. It is possible that the inspiration happened last year, when actor Laurence Fox burned a string of Progress and Inclusive Pride flags in his back garden. He uploaded the footage on to X with the extraordinary explanation: “Pride. It’s just a celebration of the mutilation of children.”

The Metropolitan Police decided no criminal offence had been committed because Fox had purchased the flags himself. People’s beliefs and the right to offend others by expressing them are protected under ideas about free speech, so the police must have deemed that the accepted threshold hadn’t been crossed. However, they were careful to issue a statement recognising that “this incident has caused community concern and we take any allegation of hate crime seriously”.

As a lesbian, I find this kind of activity upsetting and slightly threatening. Of course, it’s only a flag being burned, not a person, and that in itself is not harmful unless it incites others to hurt someone. But the issue for me is that it’s part of a sinister climate of increasingly open hostility towards LGBTIA+ people. It makes me feel less inclined to show any form of public affection lest it provoke the ire of a stranger. Fox’s post got 135K likes; walking down the street, I can’t tell who those people are.

But it’s far worse for the trans people Fox was targeting. For the avoidance of doubt, there are no trans children being mutilated. That is his hyperbole for the few thousand adolescents who are prescribed puberty blockers to inhibit changes in their bodies that would otherwise naturally occur. Any kind of surgery that a trans person may subsequently opt for occurs as an adult.

However, currently, non-essential medical interventions, both surgical and hormonal, are being routinely performed on intersex infants and children, with the aim of erasing their naturally diverse sex characteristics. Where is Fox’s outrage? In the case of actual mutilation, he remains silent.

Political and progressively inclusive

The original Pride rainbow flag has evolved to include specific marginalised groups. In 2017, Philadelphia-based civil rights activist Amber Hikes developed the rainbow to include black and brown stripes to represent people of colour. Daniel Quasar built on that idea in 2018, integrating the Philadelphia colours and including the pink, white and blue colours of the trans flag, as well as recognising the stigma surrounding HIV/Aids, to create the Progress flag.

In 2021, British artist and activist Valentino Vecchietti redesigned the flag once more by incorporating the purple circle on a yellow background of the intersex flag, as well as updating the rainbow stripes to include asexual and aromantic orientations to create the Inclusive flag.

This Inclusive Pride flag is currently lining Regent Street in London and was even worn by Lewis Hamilton on his helmet in the Qatar Grand Prix 2021. Sexual acts between men are illegal in Qatar and Muslims convicted in sharia courts could be given a judicial sentence of capital punishment for homosexuality.

While the original rainbow flag can still be regarded as controversial in the 64 jurisdictions where it is criminalised, it has become much less so in the majority of countries that have decriminalised homosexuality and introduced same-sex marriage.

What is striking is that the extension of colours to create visible inclusion in the rainbow flag has proven provocative for some, who consider it too “woke” for their tastes.

Which rainbow flags get burned is significant

Whether objecting to transgender, intersex or people of the global majority, these evolved flags prove to be such an affront to some that they feel compelled to destroy them — an act that is effectively the symbolistic destruction of the people the flag represents.

Moreover, it is not only straight white cis-gendered people who are guilty. Gender-critical lesbians have filmed themselves “reclaiming” the rainbow section of the flag by cutting out the new elements. Indeed, it has been observed that some brands are reverting to the classic Gilbert Baker rainbow to avoid any trouble. More closely associated with the gay rights movement and lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual orientations, it is now being used to consciously exclude others.

It is a matter of record that the gay pride movement was always inclusive of the broader queer community, particularly transgender people, as continues to be demonstrated in Pride events across the world. Trans and intersex people have always been among us and will continue to be.

So, while flying any rainbow flag to show solidarity is welcome, please consider choosing to fly the intersex inclusive one to show your support of all of us.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Valentino Vecchietti, founder of Intersex Equality Rights, in ensuring the accuracy of this article.

Jan Gooding is one of the UK’s best-known brand marketers, having worked with Aviva, BT, British Gas, Diageo and Unilever. She is now an executive coach, chair of PAMCo and Given. She writes for The Media Leader each month.

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