The South African LGBT Flag

Late last year, at South Africa’s biggest annual queer party, a brand-new “South African Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered flag” was launched. The setting was the annual Mother City Queer Project (around 10,000 attendees) whose theme this year was “Gay and South African Pride”. The designer of the flag, Hugh Brockman, says “I truly believe we (the GLBT community) put the dazzle into our Rainbow nation and this flag is a symbol of just that…look at all these costumes, this event, even Cape Town at large. It is a testimony that we as the Gay community have a lot to offer in skills, talent, inspiration, business (millions in PINK MONEY) and life”.

I was reminded of this flag when I watched Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk entitled “The Danger of the Single Story”. Ms Adichie warns us about the power of stories in framing our understanding of the world, particularly about peoples. She warns us to be wary of the single story – the single, neat narrative that claims to tell the story of all of a people, a culture, a country. There are many stories, and understanding comes from hearing many of those.

This flag represents to me, a single story of gayness. Gayness is white, affluent, young, male, attractive, fun, liberated (or in the process), talented, worldly, classy. Gayness is “dazzling” with “skills, talent, inspiration, business”. As pointed out by the website of Cape Town Pride, “It is an international fact that the LGBTI market is both affluent and influential… On the whole, South African LGBTI individuals are high-yield, trend-setting, brand-conscious, loyal and have ample disposable income.” This is not possible with our high poverty and unemployment rates. Obviously CTPride is not talking about all of us.

The flag was designed by few, is owned by few, but it claims to represent many. In doing so, this flag does not unite us, it obscures our own brown, fat, skinny, old, female or poor faces and voices. It places us behind the white, affluent, male, young… It tells only one of our many stories.

Click the link for my friend Jake’s essay on the same theme, but more substantive.


4 responses

  1. South Africans have a tendency of turning almost everything into racial dividers, from open-air toilets to bicycle lanes in the Cape Metro, so its unsurprising that a gay pride flag will suffer the same fate. The way I see it, is that SA simply joined a host of other countries (including USA, UK and Australia)in incorporating their National flag with the International Gay Pride flag, to form a SA gay pride flag. Unlike Keletso, when I see this flag I don't associate it with any specific racial group or any specific people's economic status. There is nothing about the flag that would prompt me to do so. Instead I associate that flag with every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered person in South Africa, regardless of race or economic status. While I fully agree that the vast majority of LGBT individuals in SA are not wealthy, brand conscious or have 'ample disposable income', I believe that none of this comes through the flag itself… so why attack it?I think we if anyone has an issue with CTPride for not being inclusive enough (and I agree that more work needs to be done to reach out to underprivileged black LGBT individuals in SA), i think attacking a flag is a terrible way to go about doing it. Keletso, its just a flag. Lets not racially charge something that can be for everyone.

  2. Hey Alessandro, I appreciate that you engaged with what I wrote.I think its interesting that of all the axes along which the flag is not inclusive (age, class, race, gender, physical beauty…), race is the one you chose to comment on. Is it because the other axes are unimportant? or uncontroversial? South Africans indeed tend to racialize things, it seems. I should also mention, but in passing, that race still allocates privilege in South Africa. South Africa is raced. Some of us have the option of choosing to think and work in a race-neutral way, and others of us are brown and/or perceptive. I should also mention that "loos with views" and "happy letters" suggest that in fact the open-air toilets had something to do with race and/or class.Turning to the flag – it is a registered trademark of P2ink. Race and class implications aside, a flag that is owned by a company whose permission you need to use cannot be the symbol of a community. It is a brand. Secondly, the flag is not the product of a community consultation on which symbols should represent us, it was designed by "Huge" Brockman (need I mention the person's gender, race and class?). It was not launched at a community meeting with the leaders and members of organizations who understand the needs and desires of LGBT people in different parts of the country. It was launched at a Cape Town party whose expensive tickets and distance from poor areas prevent most people from attending. That flag has race, class written all over it. I am sorry that you can't (or won't) see that.Of course, this argument is bigger than a flag. It is about the way "gay" is represented. The way we imagine gay excludes "brown, fat, skinny, old, female or poor". That needs to change. This flag, the way it was designed and launched, the fact that it is owned by white gay (presumably) middle class men in a country where people who are most affected by homophobic violence are not white, not middle-class and not men; is problematic.

  3. This post inspired me to do my literature review project for my rhetoric and queer theory course on this subject. What does the rainbow flag mean, who created it, what does it stand for and who can identify with it? Who does it alienate and how does that directly contradict its supposed meaning?weeeee thanks boo!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s