Over the last few weeks the Internet has seen a social media storm over a photo of a glittery rainbow poppy badge, seen for sale online as an LGBTQ+ remembrance poppy. Before I begin discussing the inherent homophobia in this, it is worth mentioning that this was not an official remembrance product, nor was it being widely advertised as such, but simply listed by one seller, who later took it down due to a torrent of vitriolic abuse.
Although the idea of a rainbow poppy was suggested by LGBTQ+ poet laureate Trudy Howson in 2016, the idea has never actually been taken up officially. Despite the fact that this poppy is not even a real British Legion product, I would in fact argue that this controversy suggests that it should be, as obviously few understand the reality of life for queer people involved in the war movement.
A common trope in homophobic sentiment is the idea that LGBTQ+ people are a modern phenomenon, that have only come into popular existence in the past few decades. Not only does this erase centuries of oppression, and the resulting resistance by the queer community, it also allows people to justify homophobia through the veneer of simply being “traditional”. Queer soldiers, as much as anyone else, deserve memorials in their name for sacrificing their lives, youth and bodies, in defence of a country that criminalised them, refusing to acknowledge them as truly human.
The example most commonly touted is that of Alan Turing, who’s Enigma machine helped crack Nazi codes, but who was chemically castrated and imprisoned by the government of the nation he had helped to save. Turing is the most famous examples, but there are thousands more who we will never know. Those who died for a country who refused to accept them, or those who fought and survived the battles, but returned home still unable to be their true selves.
What angers me the most is the idea that the rainbow poppy is somehow “politicising” remembrance, that modern-day LGBTQ+ activists are somehow co-opting a movement to further their agenda. In order for remembrance to fully encompass the tragedy of the world wars in our history, it must include all of those who not only fought against intolerance through the trenches, but who faced conflict once they returned home. Those who spent years of their life fighting, yet still experienced further intolerance and even arrest as a result of their sexuality.
In fact, to argue that a rainbow poppy politicises remembrance – as a Brexit party candidate did – is truly hypocritical. Extending remembrance is not politicising it. But protesting over which groups are allowed to be remembered for the entirety of their contribution is truly adding a partisan slant to this issue.
To add to this, the poppy is already used as a vehicle of multiple remembrances: white for pacifist remembrance, black for BME soldiers, and even purple for animals that served during the war. If people allow the remembrance of animals before the remembrance of queer people, it truly shows that we still have a very long way to go in quashing homophobia.
The “controversy” that has stemmed from this is simply homophobia rearing its ugly head against the genuine desire to remember the entirety of the horror of the world wars. It acknowledges that many queer people defended and died for this country, even if it refused them their rights. That is certainly bravery, and it is shameful to ignore it when we remember the costs of the world wars.
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