Rainbow Faces And Marriage Equality Are Great, But Being An Ally Is About More Than Picking Winners


Unless you've been living under a rock you will have noticed that over the weekend Facebook went kaleidoscopic, even more so than after Sydney’s recent double rainbow.

This time, rather than documenting a strange and beautiful meteorological phenomenon, social media users were in dual celebration of both the US Supreme Court's decision to allow full marriage equality across all 50 states, and the verdict’s near perfect coincidence with Pride celebrations across the US and Northern Hemisphere.

A Facebook tool allowing users to superimpose a translucent rainbow over their profile pictures went viral.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg 'rainbow-fies' his display picture

The timing meant that the “celebrate Pride” tool became, by and large, a way to demonstrate support for marriage equality to friends and followers. Particularly so across Australia, where in the wake of the legalisation of marriage equality in Ireland and the Supreme Court’s ruling in the US, it’s becoming increasingly apparent how backward our country is on this issue. (The discrepancy is only further highlighted by the fact the June Pride festival is not celebrated in such a big way here, most likely because if we had our parade now instead of March, too many nipples would freeze off).

Accordingly, the “celebrate Pride” tool quickly became a bandwagon that needed to be jumped on, lest you be labelled a homophobe. But in doing so, its primary message was lost in the sea of followers.

Don’t get me wrong, marriage equality is hugely important. That now, even places like Lubbock, TX have to recognise that their gay population exists, brings such a smile to my cynical queer face. The pride I have in the growing acknowledgement and recognition of my people is wonderful, and watching everyone in my feed steadily technicolour their profile pictures in support of my rights was a joyful thing to behold.

But for me, it’s important that this means more than just marriage equality.

The momentum the US decision brings to the marriage movement in Australia is undeniable. Marriage equality is now so popular that even the guy that called me “dyke lesbian” in high school, the girl who still uses “gay” as an insult, and the acquaintance who constantly misgenders my friends, have all rainbow-fied their profile pictures.

And this is where the problem lies.

I don’t doubt that people have the ability to change. Maybe the guy who called me a “dyke lesbian” (an identity I now own with pride but which horrified me in high school) is no longer a rude homophobe with a poor vocabulary for insults.

But I do fear that this bandwagon jumping has meant a lot of other issues are left behind.

In perhaps the most apt metaphor I’ve heard, a friend on my feed pointed out that quite a few of our latest allies have probably mistaken the A in LGBTQIA to stand for ally, a person who supports but is not a part of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, or Asexual communities.

When one aspect of a movement gathers serious momentum in the mainstream it is often co-opted by those it doesn’t affect, as a way for people in the majority to reassure themselves of their own benevolent, liberal nature. This is typical of almost every minority movement. It’s not always a bad thing, provided that minority voices are not overwhelmed by the self-congratulations of the mainstream.

There’s some reason for pessimism in this regard. US President Barack Obama received applause last week when he literally spoke over a transwoman, and this article explains perfectly why there’s so much more than just marriage equality affecting Australian LGBQTIA people.

The rainbow profile generator has become a symbol for marriage equality, rather than its namesake – the celebration of Pride. A friend, in changing their profile picture, commented that they were doing so “in the hope that these cute rainbows represent people who will stand with queers and GLBTIQA folk in the workplace, the schoolyard, on the street etc (not only when some of them get hitched).”

This friend perfectly encapsulates what the flag should be about: recognising all LGBTQIA people, and their struggles, not just the movement with the most momentum. Good allies change their profile pictures, but the best allies recognise that there is so much more than marriage, and so much more that can be done than clicking a button on a Facebook tool.

But it’s a start, and we should celebrate that. Activism is often so draining, and so never ending, that it’s important to celebrate the wins where we get them. The US Supreme Court ruling in favour of marriage equality is a huge win, if just one of many more to come.

That the tool went viral, decorating my feed with rainbows, is a simple but powerful demonstration of solidarity with the SCOTUS win. Provided we don’t forget that there’s more to be done, and that pride is about more than the right to get hitched, I see no problem with gaying up Facebook, even if it’s only temporary.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.