I bought a small rainbow flag from a man with a backpack full of rainbow flags. He probably didn’t much care about the Pride event he was selling his wares it, he was looking to make some money, supplying what we demanded. But I was nervous, a little shaky. It meant something to me, at my first Pride in Brighton in 2010, to align myself with this community of LGBT people.
I had never, within my memory, been to Brighton. I’m told I’d visited as a very small child but had no recollection. I didn’t even visit the seaside city before I accepted a university place there. So, when I did finally take the bus into town and began exploring, it didn’t take me long to realise this was a place that I would belong in.
Coming from a small town, walking through Kemp Town (the main LGBT area of Brighton), one of the first signs to catch my eye was the inclusion of small rainbow flags in the windows. Coffee shops, sex shops, bars, restaurants, book stores, hotels, not just in Kemp Town but across the city, there were these small iconic marks of LGBT+ friendliness. I saw it as a small token that said: we accept you, we welcome you.
Yes, I was young and naive-who wasn’t aged 18? The expanse of the queer community, the word queer itself had a different meaning to me then, the internal issues around representation and validity, race and gender identity, none of these had even entered my mind. I already identified as bisexual but aside from meeting one other fellow bisexual person and a handful of openly gay men in the last two years, I wasn’t really aware of the controversy within the community.
As a result, in my youthful outlook, I saw rainbow flags as a symbol of hope. That I didn’t have to expect people to follow me home, call me “faggot” in the street, that I could be camp if I wanted (and couldn’t help it). I’ve learned more since then, but I still think of the rainbow as a symbol of hope.
When I started to venture across Brighton, exploring more of the city, I found these rainbow flags in more and more places. In fact, over the five years (and in many moments since then), I learned that while these LGBT+ friendly markers were used to show that the people of Brighton expected fully equality and fair treatment for all its residents and visitors, it was the people who made this even more known. Brighton is a place that embodies LGBT people, it is a safe haven, it is a Rainbow Flag.
What led to me taking up my first Rainbow Flag
Having been in the city for almost a year, the first summer rolled around and so did my first Pride. Working in a bar at the time, a close friend and co-worker insisted she take me to my first Pride. We made plans to walk down and watch the parade together. I agreed, excited.
But then the question became, what would I wear? What would I be expected to wear? I wasn’t a muscular, gay magazine cover man who could turn up in short shorts, sunglasses and let my abs speak for themselves. I wasn’t an uber-femme, ready with eye shadow, glitter and a fantastic pair of high heels. So, I decided to do me, as much me at the time as possible, and cautiously purchased a Brighton Rocks t-shirt; I was Brighton proud as much as bisexual proud, rainbow braces (suspenders for Americans) and jeans.
Wearing the LGBT rainbow felt like taking a stand, officially joining a group of people. I was Proud. Taking the rainbow flag in hand and cheering on the parade floats, taking stickers from eager campaigners, waving at drag queens, applauding “The Oldest Gay in the Village”, it all made it feel like being bisexual was normal.
The rainbow flag was the biggest part of that. Being able to wear it and hold it was a triumphant, scary and powerful moment. I changed from that point on. I’d made a choice not just to identity, but to be seen.
When Gilbert Baker created the flag in 1978, how could he have known the impact it would have on a bisexual man in 2010, how much power it would have to create a bond, an alliance, between LGBT people around the world. Gilbert Baker’s lasting legacy will, in part, be a lasting testament to him in all the rainbow flags that fly for years to come. But his impact will also be in how the creation of this symbol has empowered so many, driving away the fear of isolation simply because of the inclusion of rainbow flags in our lives.
Note: I want to recognise that the Rainbow Flag and what it has become for the LGBT+ community and people, it not without flaws or issues. We are complex people, with many different histories and situations. We are not a perfect, unified community at all times, though I hope one day we will be. What I want to acknowledge here, is the impact the Rainbow Flag had on me at a time when I needed it most.