There are pockets of the queer community who use the term “Rainbow Person” to refer to anyone who falls under the LGBTQIA2S+ umbrella. Some people in the Rainbow Community feel that using differentiating queer language can sustain the oppressive history of hetero- and cis-normativity (e.g., words like homosexual). I believe the intention of the Rainbow Community is to combat patriarchal oppression through unification.
I was unable to find supportive source materials on the origin of the Rainbow Community’s ideology, and I would like to discuss why I hope it stays that way.
Inclusivity and erasure are not the same.
In the late 19th century, a white politician coined the term “colourblind” to encourage racial equality in the United States. The colourblind model asserted it was possible to overlook skin colour and that doing so would fix racial oppression by unifying people. The colourblind ideology is not only counterproductive, it is a form of racial oppression.
Willfully ignoring a person’s ethnic and cultural background closes the door to discussions about racism and intersectionality. Colourblind theory attempts to erase cultures and assimilate people into being perceived as “normal” or “average.” The problem with this is that humans can’t become willfully colourblind, and everyone raised in a colonial society will have internalized racism. The colourblind theory is great for the majority group because it can neutralize the culpability of oppression. When we consider how pervasive racism and colorism are in society, we can understand that colorblindness is an incredulous philosophy.
While I cannot speak on experiences of racialization directly because I am a white person and belong to the dominant racial group, I bring up colourblind theory to draw a parallel. I believe that the “Rainbow Person” ideology is a repackaged colourblind theory for the queer community.
My experiences as a white, queer, transgender man are not comparable to what a Black, lesbian, transgender woman experiences. Even though we are both oppressed by cis-normativity, I have numerous privileges afforded to me because I was born white. I also have male privilege when I am perceived as a cisgender male. It is also more socially acceptable for a person assigned female at birth (AFAB) to be masculine than for a person assigned male at birth (AMAB) to be feminine.
If we discourage each other from using queer words, the intersectionality of our queer experiences is no longer on the table for discussion. If we are all simply “Rainbow People,” I could get away with not acknowledging my privilege. Professor Rory Crath discussed the “Rainbow Community” specifically, stating: “recolonized by the assumptions of sameness (“a rainbow community”), [is] a supposition that precludes the hard work of self/systemic inspection” (Crath 2010, 141).
Some proponents of the “Rainbow Community” believe that binary language (man, woman) and queer words (homosexual, trans woman) are a form of internalized oppression and can be problematic. I believe this perspective is a billowing red flag with the words “Victim-Blaming” written in bold. Michel Foucault’s writing discussed how the word ‘homosexual’ emerged specifically because the dominant group was heterosexual. However, that does not mean the word ‘homosexual’ is problematic. The “Rainbow” philosophy seeks to create an inclusivity illusion by making “Rainbow” a broad enough category to be considered a societal default—similar to how colourblind theory wanted everyone to be seen as humans without racial differentiation.
I have lost my family, I have been homeless several times, and I have experienced much violence because I am transgender. Queer people are disproportionately subject to familial abandonment, poverty, and violence. While cisgender and heterosexual people experience other hardships and oppression, homo- and transphobia are not among them. Unification under a nondescript “Rainbow Identity” is too idealistic to help combat the societal oppression I have faced; similar to how colourblind theory doesn’t help racial oppression.
Discouraging the use of differentiating queer language not only causes erasure on an individual level but also on a mass scale. For example, the Drag community (composed of homosexual, bisexual, queer, and transgender people) rarely gets credited for influencing high fashion and pop music. We do not credit the Black women who inspired the gay men who founded the drag community at all. And the transgender Black women who fronted the social movements that gave queer millennials like me the freedoms it did not afford them? Often forgotten completely. We should not be discouraging differentiating language to promote unification. We should shout “BLACK” “HOMOSEXUAL” and “TRANSGENDER WOMEN” from the rooftops as an apology for the epistemic violence committed.
Language policing is among the great misdirects of modern queer discourse, distracting from real concerns and halting progress by making people hesitant to start conversations. Words like transgender, pansexual, androgynous, and queer do not define or oppress me. They describe the particularities of my life experiences specifically because they come charged with a tangible history of oppression. While I can’t tell you what the priorities of a “Rainbow Person” would be, I can tell you that as a queer person, I am more concerned with personal safety, housing, economic stability, and human rights than I am concerned with assimilating queer language.