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What Does the Rainbow Flag Actually Represent?

Sinead O’Connor’s performance on Monday 16 September’s Good Morning Britain, stunned crowds as she belted our her cover of Prince’s iconic hit ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. The Irish singer-songwriter wore a rainbow top to show her support for the LGBTQ+ community, and a hijab to show support to the Muslim community.

The iconography of the rainbow on a TV show that had previously debated whether the LGBTQ+ community should be factored into education, and has frequently debated the idea that gender is a spectrum, was a powerful move and led many who were unaware to wonder what the

The rainbow as a symbol was largely adopted by the LGBTQ+ community in 1978, with the artwork of San Franciscan Gilbert Baker. The seven colours represent the diversity in the community. From the 1990s, the rainbow flag became the officially unofficial symbol of the LGBTQ+ community, especially with the unveiling of a mile-long rainbow flag in New York City in 1994 on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

The Stonewall Riots originally took place at the time of the funeral of Wizard of Oz actress and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ singer, Judy Garland. The rainbow and its association with the LGBTQ+ community can also be accredited to Judy Garland, who’s famous song was henceforth adopted as an anthem. The song – sung when Dorothy Gale is still in black-and-white Kansas where she doesn’t fit in, represents the idea that a bright and colourful life awaits, outside of the ordinary.

But, can a rainbow really belong to one community? Many critics of the rainbow flag wonder whether the concept of the rainbow can belong to one community. But, it’s all about context. The rainbow is also a symbol of the Irish, or at least a tongue-in-cheek nod to the idea of leprechauns in Irish folklore and that a pot of gold could be found at the end of the rainbow. And this motif has translated well into a variety of mediums, not least online games, such as slot games such as Rainbow Riches. As well as being related to mythological creatures like the unicorn, found in Greek and Norse mythology as representing the pathway between Earth and heaven, as well as finding its way onto cereal boxes and sweet packets.

The rainbow in relation to the LGBTQ+ community has come to mean more than myth and marketing, it represents standing out and standing up – and unashamedly doing so. The rainbow symbol means strength and power to the community today, with its ongoing hardships, as much as it did when Baker originally devised it.

For human society, the semiotics of communication allow symbols to take on meanings and become added to our lexicon. The image of the rainbow flag in any context holds as much meaning today as the mile-long rainbow flag did in New York in 1994.

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