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The rainbow poppy? No, thanks. I'll wear the red one to remember EVERYONE who gave their lives

The rainbow poppy? No, thanks. I'll wear the red one to remember EVERYONE who gave their lives
As the UK approaches Remembrance Sunday and the country prepares to commemorate the sacrifices of those who died in war, an aspect of the broader culture war has intruded.

When visitors to the battlefields of Flanders in 1919 and 1920 and saw that the place where so many soldiers had died was red with poppy flowers, it became adopted as a symbol of those who died in military service. By 1921 the red poppy has become an official symbol in Britain. This year, the appearance of rainbow-coloured poppies produced to remember homosexual military personnel killed in service has caused an argument to break out. Commentators (including servicemen) have requested gay activists not to politicise the poppy and – in my view – this seems a fair and reasonable request. It is not as if people wishing to explore and promote gay history do not have ample opportunities to do so. The memorial poppy seems an inappropriate area for activism.

The red poppy is a symbol which has always been universal. It symbolises men and women, British and Empire/Commonwealth subjects, those who served willingly or grudgingly, and is not restricted in terms of sexuality or religion. Gay and lesbian service personnel were never excluded from this symbol of civic respect and personal grief. It is one of the few near-universally cherished symbols in an increasingly fractured nation; perhaps that is why there has been such a strong pushback against the attempt to use this symbol as an icon by some gay activists.

The ever-expanding influence of activists who demand representation in every field of public life is generating resistance from even formerly supportive allies. As barriers to legal equality and employment opportunity have been removed, some gay activists have turned to culture and language. Homosexuality faces no disapproval from government – indeed, discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal – and there is no concerted position of disapproval from the mainstream press or the state Church of England. Rainbow flags fly outside some churches as semi-permanent features.

Consider Gay Pride. It is a rally/parade that has been held in London most years from 1972. Originally it was a single day in June or July to raise visibility of gay and lesbian people and highlight social issues, as well as being a celebration. This single day has expanded first to an entire month of events and then to summer-long state-sanctioned celebrations. It has the backing of government (£100,000 per year of public funding for the London event alone) and has evolved into a nationwide series of events with private companies, transport systems and even the police providing visible support. This summer in central Bristol one could find purple circus tents with the hoardings promoting “The Lady Boys of Bangkok” and the August Bank Holiday in Cardiff became a weekend-long Gay Pride celebration.

The vanguard of LGBT activism has moved beyond gaining legal equality and is now demanding not only acceptance, but approval. We can look at activism (in all groups) in two forms: pragmatic and ideological. Pragmatic activists see specific issues which they can identify, describe and for which they offer solutions. For example, the survivor of a homosexual couple where one partner dies has no legal standing to make funeral arrangements or exercise inheritance rights. This situation was limited, comprehensible and (in the eyes of the majority) unjust, so, after consultation, the law was changed to allow gay partners parity with married widows and widowers.

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Ideological activists address issues that are vague and always changing. They demand political and cultural representation, sometimes as quotas; they want to control language. While we are right to consider issues advanced by pragmatic activists on a case-by-case basis, we should reject demands of political activists because these demands will never end, and every concession will give rise to new demands. These activists punish organisations and individuals who resist, using intimidation, emotional blackmail and harassment to achieve provisional short-term advantages.

While the disagreements over the “gay poppy” seem minor, they demonstrate a deep and growing uneasiness in the population about the replacement of pragmatic activists (who worked to overcome definable legal impediments) by ideological activists, who demand ever greater influence.

Alexander Adams is a British artist and writer. His book Culture War: Art, Identity and Cultural Entryism is published by Societas.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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