The furore over the Rainbow Poppy is a war against queer history
November isn’t complete without sensationalised headlines about the poppy – spewed out annually by tabloids that warn the symbol is constantly under threat and disrespected.
For the past few years, this narrative was constructed at the expense of religion – mainly Muslims who were accused of burning the poppy, refusing to wear it, or even trying to ban it. And despite the coverage of Muslim soldiers and supporters fundraising for Remembrance Day – outrage still broke out.
But now – it’s the gays’ turn. And here’s why the furore over the rainbow poppy is a war against queer history.
Homosexuality in the First World War and after
Homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised in the UK until 1967 – 22 years after the end of WWII. Consequently, many gay men in the war would have tried to keep their sexuality hidden in fear of being ostracised or reported to their superiors for ‘indecency’. According to Attitude Magazine, at least 230 fighting men were court-martialled and sent to prison due to their sexuality.
One very revealing anecdote comes from war poet Wilfred Owen – who died a week before the armistice. Owen sent a letter to a family member, informing them about two French girls who were attracted to him.
“The dramatic irony was too killing, considering certain other things, not possible to tell in a letter,” the poet’s cryptic message caused suspicion around his sexuality.
Similarly, in the US, the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ (DADT) law was passed in 1993 – allowing queer people to serve their country as long as they didn’t disclose their sexuality. The legislation wasn’t revoked until 2011.
And now, Trump’s America is channelling the same hatred into banning transgender individuals from enrolling in the Military. Showing that history really does repeat itself when we don’t acknowledge it in the first place.
To this day, homosexuality is still associated with being unpatriotic – because our image of war is so warped. We want our soldiers to adhere to every heterosexual ideal possible – to be strong, chiselled, a womaniser, and to fulfil the responsibility of returning from war and having children.
But how could gay men fit this expectation when they had to suppress themselves so much?
Alan Turing was a mathematician and code-breaker at Bletchley during WWII – he was described by Churchill as the ‘biggest contribution to the victory against the Nazis’.
And what was Turing’s reward? A prison sentence for ‘gross indecency’, chemical castration and driven to suicide at the age of 41. All because of his sexuality.
We shouldn’t need exemplary war heroes to validate queer lives. But the fact that the majority of people posting on Facebook ‘Lest We Forget’ are refusing to acknowledge the disturbing reality.
We cannot forget what was never taught.
The commercialisation of the poppy
This year, the Middlesbrough Football Club launched its Poppy Appeal pin – with its team logo attached to the flower.
The difference in how this has been reported, in comparison to the rainbow poppy, shows we are fine with modifying the symbol – but only when it’s with something we fully support.
Yet the rainbow poppy has been slammed for not being physically accurate, for detracting from the cause, and for ‘making everything about being gay’.
Which raises the question, are we buying poppies to conform to tradition or to actually donate to a cause and pay respect?
The Katie Hopkins Effect
“I have nothing against gays but [inserts generic homophobic comment],” has become popular rhetoric on Twitter – allowing people to justify their micro-aggressions in the name of a good cause.
But it’s important to draw attention to the fact that the rainbow poppy is not affiliated with the Poppy Appeal. From what has been posted online, it looks like this whole fury has been caused by one screenshot from eBay.
What is clear is this badge is not a result of demand, there has been no petition from the queer community to introduce this poppy as an official symbol. In other words, we have not asked for it.
But it has provided people with enough ammunition for us to face the brunt of it. Perhaps because in our current political and social climate, we simply love being outraged (recently dubbed the Katie Hopkins effect). And conflating one rainbow poppy with the beliefs of the entire LGBTQ community proves we’re still being reduced to a monolithic entity.
Overall, this piece isn’t about the poppy itself – because the reaction it’s received is way more telling.
Ultimately, if you don’t agree with the rainbow poppy, it’s simple – don’t buy it. If you want to buy a traditional poppy – buy one. Just don’t weaponise this outrage as a way to slander the queer community.