The first Pride was a riot.
The Stonewall riot of 28 June 1969 gave birth to the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, when a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village erupted in rioting.
The LGBTQ+ community has had something of a rollercoaster ride since, with its lowest low undoubtedly the AIDS epidemic, and its highest high the multiple successes in the fight for marriage equality. But, for all the successes to date, we must not rest on the assumption that there are not still freedoms to be won.
With regard to the health of LGBTQ+ people, the battle for equality is not yet won; both in terms of equal access to healthcare and equality in health outcomes. Health inequalities experienced by the LGBTQ+ population are well documented and include increased rates of mental health problems, varying access to fertility and reproductive health services (1), increased rates of alcohol and drug misuse (2), and the consequences of increased BMI (3). The inequalities in health in LGBTQ+ people are as diverse and myriad as the community itself.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought particular risks to a community already battling those inequalities. Concerns have been raised about the safety of LGBTQ+ youth forced by lockdown to homes in which they are, at best, forced back into the closet – and at worst, placed at risk of physical and emotional abuse by families who do not understand or respect their identity.
As restrictions ease in parts of the UK, these vulnerable children and young adults remain unable to access face-to-face support from informal or professional networks (4).
We also have to consider the dangers faced by LGBTQ+ people at risk of domestic violence; lots of work has rightly been undertaken to highlight the impact lockdown poses to heterosexual women at risk of violence in the home, but we must also be conscious of the need to support LGBTQ+ specific services when facing the challenges presented by COVID-19 (5).
The NHS Rainbow Badge project has been ground-breaking in encouraging health professionals to acknowledge the health inequalities experienced by LGBTQ+ people, and to pledge to work towards eliminating these inequalities.
Gilbert Baker’s Pride rainbow (six colours, no indigo) has long been a symbol of the LGBTQ+ Pride movement, flown at Pride marches and often the symbol of LGBTQ+-friendly businesses and organisations.
June as ‘Pride month’ is an American phenomenon that has more recently become prominent in UK LGBTQ+ culture.
As COVID-19 swept the UK, the rainbow symbol took on new meaning to represent thanks to the UK’s key workers as they continue to battle the virus.
Matt Hancock was noted by one journalist to be ‘wearing his NHS badge’ (the NHS Rainbow Badge) (6), and one hospital has apparently generated promotional material talking about the pride staff have felt in working for the organisation and using the rainbow, whilst making no reference to the LGBTQ+ community (7).
There are some LGBTQ+ voices concerned that the Pride rainbow has been repurposed away from the community; some go as far as to ask how we will reclaim it. I think that question is not the one to ask.
All of this happens at a time of great change and upheaval in our societies; not only do we continue the struggle against COVID-19, with the promise of only a ‘new normal’ on the other side, we see social unrest as the Black Lives Matter movement continues its push for BAME (black and minority ethnic) equality, and debate continues about the status of Trans people.
Perhaps we are at a crossroads. In one direction, we can try to reclaim our six-colour rainbow, and stand in our silos; in the other, we can stand all under one banner, in solidarity with our BAME and Trans siblings, acknowledging the multiple levels of discrimination faced by minorities within minorities, fighting for the equalities of all.
Daniel Quasar’s reimagining of the Pride flag, with its chevron of black and brown stripes to acknowledge the BAME LGBTQ+ community, and white, pink and blue stripes to honour our Trans siblings, is the symbol I see as most suited to our cause in the future.
This Progress flag honours our multiple minorities, whilst paying homage to Stormé DeLarverie and Marsha P Johnson (the African American lesbian and Trans woman of colour), each of whom were reported to have thrown the first punch at Stonewall and asking us to consider the intersectionality of our equality.
The first Pride was a riot. In our new normal, the next Pride can be progress, with a flag to match.
Christopher Morrison is a member of the BMA’s equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group and co-chair of the Association of LGBT Doctors and Dentists.
6 @Jkbmedic (2020). twitter.com/Jkbmedic/status/1268557110309900289?s=20