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Bus company faces backlash over ‘insensitive’ decision to rebrand Pride flag bus as NHS one

The repurposing of the six-stripe Pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker is sparking anger.

By Will Stroude

A bus company in Plymouth has sparked a backlash over its ‘insensitive’ decision to rebrand a bus decorated with the LGBTQ Pride flag as a bus celebrating the NHS.

Rainbows have become a symbol of solidarity with health workers during the coronavirus crisis, and over the weekend Plymouth Citybus announced plans to ‘repurpose’ a bus decorated with the six-stripe Pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker symbolising LGBTQ equality.

“Rainbows have become synonymous with hope and the NHS during the current pandemic, so we thought what better way to show our thanks to our amazing NHS and key workers, than to re-brand our Pride bus to our rainbow ‘NHS’ bus?” a tweet from Plymouth Citybus read.

“Look out for the bus on our roads soon!”

The decision was met with frustration by many online, who branded it “insensitive” and “tone deaf” to use a Pride flag, which differs to a real, seven-stripe rainbow and symobolises decades of LGBTQ struggle.

“The freedom flag used by the LGBTQ+ community is 6 colours (& variations of it)”, wrote one Twitter users. “The Rainbow adopted by some for the NHS is 7 colours (like the actual rainbow) & a symbol of hope.

“Instead of brushing Pride under the NHS carpet why not give them their own bus.”

Another added: “If ever proof were needed that corporations just use us. Wow, oh wow. This is offensive to my community and offensive to the NHS.”

Some were forced to explain the difference between using a rainbow to demonstrate support for the NHS and using a Pride flag. 

In response to someone who wrote that rainbows are “for everyone”, one Twitter user explained: “As does the poppy. But the red poppy symbolises something specific. The six striped rainbow does too.

“Here you have a bunch of presumably straight people appropriating a symbol that already pertains to a recognised community, movement, and cause.”

Not all were in agreement, however, including local MP Luke Pollard.

The Labour MP for Plymouth and Sutton, who is gay, tweeted: “I’m not going to join the outrage at Citybus over their awkward rebranding the pride bus to support the NHS.

“They did the right thing by supporting #plymouth pride, and supporting the NHS is good too.

“Let’s not play one group off against another at a time of crisis please”.

Pride in Plymouth also issued a statement, saying they had been in touch with Plymouth Citybus, who had confirmed that the ‘rebranding’ of the bus would only be temporary.

“Following some concerns from members of Plymouth’s and wider LGBT+ communities, Plymouth Citybus have been in touch with Pride in Plymouth to confirm that the current rebranding of their colourful rainbow Pride bus is a tempoarary measure to show support for the National Health Service in these difficult times.

“With the more traditional seven colour rainbow becoming associated with the NHS response to COVID-19, Citybus felt that the Pride bus (with its six colour Pride flag colours) could quickly be used as a symbol for different communities working together, in these difficult times, over the next few weeks.

“Rest assured though, this is a temporary measure while a design is created for a new Pride in Plymough bus for 2020.”