How many colors in the rainbow?

There has been some controversy recently in some corners of the LGBTQ community when group in Philadelphia introduced a new variant on the rainbow flag. This time there were 2 new stripes added – a black one and a brown one.

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I don’t object to this addition by any means. There have been a lot of variants on the rainbow flag over the years. And in light of how in many cases LGBTQ people of color are less visible than white people – particularly cis white gay men – I understand the desire to add those extra colors as a way of adding visibility.

It surprised me though – and not because I think of the rainbow flag as a symbol of something colorblind. Quite the opposite. As I have been reflecting on it, I had specific experiences around the time that I came out that very clearly cemented the rainbow flag in my mind with inclusion of people of different races and ethnicities.

My coming out process proceeded quickly after I arrived at college in 1987. Being outside my parents’ house and on my own in a liberal environment meant that within 2-3 months, I was coming out to many people in my daily life and learning about everything involved in embracing my identity as a gay man, including the ideas behind the rainbow flag.

Another major cultural force in the United States was using the rainbow as its symbol at the time – the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. Jackson had run in 1984 for the Democratic nomination and again in 1988. In that second campaign, he was the second-highest vote getter for the Democratic nomination, behind the eventual nominee, Mike Dukakis.

Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition (later merged with PUSH to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition) was a politically inclusive movement built very explicitly on racial and ethnic diversity. And I believe that Jackson was the first and only major party nominee addressing LGB audiences around the country (sadly, I can’t vouch for the inclusion of Trans people at this time). I saw him speak at the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church – an expressly LGB Christian denomination) in Minneapolis. And he was standing underneath a giant rainbow flag. The symbolic power of this candidate combined with this rainbow was huge – even if ultimately the Reagan/Bush version of conservative America was the one that voters chose.

Since these two uses of the symbol of the rainbow were combined in my consciousness, the Rainbow flag has always been – without any doubt – a symbol of inclusion of people of all races and ethnicities, as well as being a symbol of inclusion of LGBTQ people. And I think I’m just realizing that maybe that strong link is more personal for me than anything that is communicated to most people viewing the rainbow flag today.

Let’s be honest: there is a huge problem with racism within the LGBTQ community. Of course there is. There’s a problem with it within our society, and LGBTQ people are raised in and exist within our society. We learn all the underlying racist attitudes and bias that everyone else does. They don’t just go away. They need to be challenged all the time – by ourselves and within our communities.

Here in Chicago, for example, some of the most visible gay neighborhoods are largely white. This is a very segregated city. There have been longstanding tensions between white property and business owners in these neighborhoods and young LGBTQ people of color who are seeking out a community that purports to welcome them. Unfortunately, many of these young people of color are met with suspicion and prejudice instead of a welcoming attitude.

If adding a couple stripes to the flag address this in some way or help to bring awareness to the lack of representation of people of color in the LGBTQ press and within our community organizations, I will welcome it. Sorry, if it’s going to just take me a minute to get used to the fact that I see a meaning in that rainbow that nearly everyone else doesn’t.

Brotherhood, Fellowship, and Transformation

As my readers know, I have been involved with the Brotherhood of the Phoenix for a number of years and I have recently been in positions of leadership – Magister (President) of the Chicago Temple and Bursar (Treasurer) for the national organization.

We have had some major changes bubbling inside our Order for a while now, and they are just starting to break the surface, so I think it is time for me to start writing about them here.

We were founded in 2004 as a neopagan order for men who love men. Since I have been involved, that has meant inclusion of gay, bi, trans, and queer male identities. Our cosmology, our deities, and our rituals specifically avoid the forms of heterosexual male-female duality that is common in many Pagan traditions. Some of our Brothers have had a strong interest in “male mysteries” and explorations of masculine sexuality as it relates to and embodies the sacred. To be honest, this aspect has not been central to my experience of the Brotherhood.

It has become increasingly clear to us that many people who don’t identify specifically as men are interested in our tradition. Women, non-binary, and genderqueer people have been supporters and close allies. At the same time, many of us have become uncomfortable with drawing the line which leaves these seekers outside of our group. There is a value in exploring and celebrating the spiritual dimension of male sexuality – but the mission of our group is larger than this. Many of us have experienced this message from our deities. There are even those within our group who have stepped away from identifying as “men”, which has brought the challenge of inclusion to the fore.

At the same time, two of our long-time Brothers recently moved to Seattle and are dedicated to expanding our group there. However, they wanted to start that group without the gendered limitation that we’ve had in Chicago. They wanted to be – from the beginning – open to LGBTQ/Queer people of all gender identities. And with a lot of discussion, the national organization is supportive of that. But it meant, among other things, figuring out a name for the organization that doesn’t limit/define gender.

So, the first announcement is that our national organization will be changing its name to “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. It is going to take some time to figure out all the official things that need to be changed in order to make that happen. The Seattle group will be using that name from its inception. Their first public ritual will take place on August 19, 2017.

For the moment, our Chicago group is still processing this – the cauldron is still bubbling. We will have a vote next month about adopting both the name change and changing our definition of who is invited to all public events, our novitiate program, and to apply for membership. I don’t want to tell you that Chicago will definitely adopt all these changes. It will be the decision of the group. But I do know that many of the active members are ready for these changes to be adopted. Others feel like there is something special that we will be giving up by changing our focus and broadening our target audience. Emotions have run high at times. Letting everyone have a voice in the process can be frustrating, but it’s necessary.

So, for now, we will have a “Seattle Fellowship of the Phoenix” and a “Chicago Brotherhood of the Phoenix” under a national umbrella called “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. At least for the moment.

The Phoenix is a symbol of transformation. This concept is central to who we are. I am personally happy that this transformation is finally starting to manifest. It will take some time and processing for this phase of transformation to be complete.