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The historical significance and symbolic meaning of the rainbow perfectly explained in under 60 seconds

Josh Milton April 21, 2020
Queer museum staffer Sacha Coward broke down the semiotic history of the rainbow in a tidy 60 seconds. (Screen capture via Twitter)

Queer museum staffer Sacha Coward broke down the semiotic history of the rainbow in a tidy 60 seconds. (Screen capture via Twitter)

Noah considered it a sign from God, Aristotle grappled with its geometry and Dorothy sang about soaring above it.

To Gilbert Baker, it was an enduring international symbol of the LGBT+ community.

The rainbow has had, over the years, more meaning and significations tacked onto it than it contains colours. But museum professional Sacha Coward managed to take viewers through the, well, colourful history of the rainbow all within 60 seconds in a clip uploaded to Twitter Tuesday morning.

The rainbow has taken many new meanings over the years. 

As part of the “#MuseumFromHome” series, which sees museum staffers and curators share stories behind their favourite historical artefacts and moments, for his 37th video, Coward takes the user over the rainbow.

“I decided to do my 37th #museumfromhome video about the rainbow and it’s meaning due to a conversation with someone on Twitter yesterday,” Coward told PinkNews.

The chat was about whether people are appropriating the rainbow as a symbol for lockdown off the LGBTQ+ community.

“Some people were concerned that straight people were starting to use rainbows and related symbols and language (#lovewins) out of context. The fear being that the LGBTQ+ history of these symbols was being erased.”

Indeed, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to bear down on daily life, rainbows doodled by housebound children have sprung up across Britain and beyond, becoming a symbol of encouragement and resilience for healthcare providers dutifully clocking-in and out each day.

It even spurred from barbed words from those against the LGBT+ community, weary that the rainbow’s association with queer folk – as an emblem of diversity and acceptance – will, somehow, bungle its newfound message of hope.

Yes, really.

Coward continued: “As a gay museum worker, I wanted to respond in two ways.

“One by reminding cithet people of the history and significance of the rainbow to queer people.

“But also reminding the LGBTQ+ community that we didn’t invent the rainbow and we don’t own it!

“On balance, I am delighted that kids are producing symbols of joy and hope during lockdown.

Still, I agree that we l need to remember how precious this symbol is to many queer people. We don’t need to police the rainbow but just ask adults to be mindful of repurposing a flag or T-shirt bought at Pride.

More: coronavirus pandemic, gilbert baker, History, Pride, pride flag, rainbow, Twitter

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