A symbol of inclusion or something more?
Queer blogger and influencer Kiran Thadhani considers the power of the flag whilst travelling.
Kiran Thadhani is a queer Sindhi woman, born in the US, now living in London. She is a cross-cultural facilitator, entrepreneur, and complex conflict expert. She brings herself, her story, and her history in all that she does. She loves to find meaning in the most ordinary parts of life. She is designing a travel documentary series called Traveling Free. Her idea for this project comes from her own adventures and migration story, where she has constantly found such beauty and brilliance in queer people and communities that have often experienced great exclusion.
A few months ago, my partner posed a question that resonated deeply within me, “Why do you have such a strong passion for travelling?” Emotions surged through me, and tears welled up in my eyes as I struggled to articulate my feelings. It was at that moment that I realized my love for travel springs from a profound desire to find a sense of belonging in my life.
Travel has become my way of exploring the potential of what life can offer - a means to discover myself in new and enlightening ways. It mirrors the diverse nature of queerness, which varies across cultures and individuals, transcending borders while also challenging them.
Over the past year, I’ve been collecting stories and contemplating the significance of travelling as a queer person, as well as discovering queer communities around the world. Recently, I’ve been particularly intrigued by the presence or absence of the rainbow flag and how it in!uences travel decisions, feelings of safety, and destination choices for myself and other queer travellers. These discussions have given rise to perspectives that I believe are essential for all travellers and those working in the hospitality industry to consider.
“Bringing Us Together”
For some, the rainbow !ag acts as a universal symbol that fosters connections among LGBTQ+ travel communities worldwide. It kindles a sense of unity and belonging, enabling us to connect with others regardless of language or culture. As a friend in Cairo pointed out, “While queerness is manifested differently across cultures, we face discrimination globally. The presence of the rainbow flag serves as an emblem that advocates for change and stimulates transformative conversations within vastly diverse cultural contexts. Although our experiences may vary greatly based on intersecting identities such as race, gender expression, and socioeconomic background, it’s important to know that we aren’t alone.”
“The Elephant in the Room”
However, others have shared that displaying the rainbow flag is merely a starting point. Achieving greater LGBTQ+ inclusion requires proactive measures to address bias and discrimination within the hospitality industry. This entails creating welcoming environments, training hospitality staff on LGBTQ+ sensitivity, implementing anti-discriminatory policies, and supporting LGBTQ+ employees. Genuine inclusivity goes beyond symbols and necessitates tangible actions that challenge the status quo, especially for trans and non-binary individuals.
“Just a Performance”
Expanding on that sentiment, many people expressed the view that the use of the rainbow flag in hotels and restaurants, particularly during events like Pride Month, is merely performative allyship. It may appear supportive on the surface but lacks a substantial commitment to addressing LGBTQ+ issues. The commercial use of the flag without concrete efforts to support LGBTQ+ individuals or combat systemic inequalities can be seen as tokenism or a marketing strategy. However, it is important to note that not all businesses using the rainbow flag engage in performative allyship. Many genuinely support LGBTQ+ rights and use the flag to show solidarity.
“I’m Grateful to Travel, Flag or No Flag”
During conversations with some others, they expressed that whether there is a flag or not doesn’t really matter to them. “I feel incredibly privileged to have the ability to travel and safely cross borders. I don’t need a flag or even for the hotel staff to acknowledge that the woman with me is my wife. They can think whatever they want - it doesn’t determine how free I feel.”
“What if they centered us in the design?”
Even so, in a recent discussion, someone raised an intriguing point: instead of relying on a flag to signify safety, the aim should be to design hotels, restaurants, and other travel destinations with equity in mind from the very beginning. “I’m not asking for ‘Queer hotels’, I’m interested in how the hospitality industry could center the experiences of LGBTQ+ travelers in the customer experience. When you address the challenges faced by populations that often feel unsafe while traveling, you inherently create a safe and more enriching experience for all guests, regardless of their queerness or identity.”
Kiran Thadhani has teamed up with 25hours to host roundtables for the local queer communities. Available at a selection of 25hours Hotels and beginning in Paris, the evening will include NENI food and an aperitivo or digestif in the 25hours bar afterwards. Check @25hourshotels on instagram COMPANION COMMENT for announcements.
Evolution of the Pride Flag
The original pride flag was designed by Gilbert Baker to celebrate members of the gay and lesbian political movement. It comprised eight coloured stripes to evoke a rainbow: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, indigo for serenity and violet for spirit.
Various new versions of the pride flag have been created with more colours to represent marginalised communities. Monica Helms created the transgender flag with light blue, white and pink.
Philadelphia City Hall revealed a pride flag including black and brown stripes designed to highlight the discrimination of black and brown members of the community. A year later pink, light blue and white were added to represent trans, gender non-binary, intersex and those across the gender spectrum.
The Progress Pride flag was designed by non-binary American artist Daniel Quasar which was less confusing. He placed the black, brown, light blue, pink and white stripes in the shape of an arrow, on the left. This sought to improve the flag’s legibility and place discriminated minorities at the forefront.
Valentino Vecchietti created the Intersex-Inclusive Pride Flag using purple and yellow as an intentional counterpoint to gendered blue and pink. The symbol of the circle represents the concept of being unbroken and whole, symbolising the right of intersex people to make decisions about their bodies.