Commentary: Equality as a Vehicular Identity

2010 Kia Soul 15
Photo by Randy Stern

As motorists, we have a tendency to individualize our rides.

It is the American way, really. Our nation is one of the few countries where our vehicles are personalized with stickers, cling placards, badges and so forth. Through these identifying marks, we often advertise our educational history, faith, favorite sports team, sense of humor, our politics, and so forth.

In the past decade, we have seen a shift on how LGBT motorists personalize their vehicles. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the six-color rainbow flag – the official banner of the LGBT community – had been the visible symbol on the back of our cars, trucks and SUVs. It has been through various variations: Strips, cutout shapes, metallic finishes, etc. Add other flags of our subcommunities – the Leather Pride flag, the Bisexual Pride flag, the International Bear Brotherhood flag – and you have the answer to Eddie Izzard’s famous question. There is still the oft pink triangle emblazoned on the back of one of our vehicles somewhere on the road.

Nowadays, the rainbow flag have been supplanted by something more iconic. Something that is simple, non-threatening…and very political: The Human Rights Campaign logo sticker.

Since 1980, the HRC began as the de facto advocacy organization representing the LGBT community. Their work has been chronicled in the LGBT press and elsewhere. They are on equal footing as the NAACP and other cultural/community advocacy organizations.

The logo is a simple medium-dark blue shade as the background for a yellow equal sign. Designed for the HRC’s rebranding in 1995, the logo became the most popular symbol of our community. You can see them on automobiles, trucks, SUVs, crossovers, motorcycles, bicycles, backpacks…etc.

In fact, there seems to be more HRC logo stickers on vehicles these days than ever. Twenty years ago, rainbow flag stickers were commonplace, but not on the level with the sheer volume of the HRC logo stickers today.

It appears that everyone – heterosexual allies, too – have them on their vehicles!

Why? For the most part, you can pick up one of these square equality symbols for free wherever HRC is present in our community. Preferably, a donation to the organization would accompany the acquisition of the sticker. Some versions of the logo can be purchased through HRC or other retailers when available.

The accessibility of the logo and free availability of the stickers would explain the common presence of the HRC symbol on our vehicles. Yet, does it speak to us as identifiers of our community?

Perhaps, but you’d be surprised how many LGBT people are either not aware of what the HRC does, or disagree with their agenda and/or their work. Nonetheless, there is a consensus that point to their significance and relevance to utilize their logo as a popular identifier of someone who believes in complete equality for all people.

Yet, slapping a HRC logo on a vehicle is the same as putting on any bumper sticker identifying your soul to the motoring world. Or, is it? Motorists in the USA participate in this ritual of vehicular identification more than any industrialized nation. We sticker our vehicle to ensure we can stand out in a crowd and show the world what we’re all about.

For LGBT people to apply a freely distributed, simply designed equal sign to supplant a flag or repatriated symbols of oppression, it is what makes us. Or, does it?

If you drive through a gayborhood – formerly known as gay ghettoes – the HRC sticker may still be prevalent. Yet, you will continue to find the plethora of self-identifying symbols applied onto their vehicles. There is still a need to ensure a semi-political presence when one correlates identity with their property. As stated before, some people consider the HRC logo as too political, therefore they will stick on a variation on the rainbow flag in the shape of an interest or one of the subcultural identifiers would suffice for the motorist.

In the subculture I walk amongst – Bears – the earth-toned, seven striped flag does the same trick as the HRC sticker. It is non-political – that’s for sure! It also makes it easier to know which cars to quickly check out in traffic. About 15 years ago, I would be happy to see another vehicle on the road with one of those stickers applied. Nowadays, my reaction would be more along the lines of “oh, that’s [someone I know] and his partner. I saw their Facebook update this morning about them going to [some popular place to eat]…”

Then, again, even the Bears have supplanted their flag with the HRC sticker on their vehicles.

Why am I discussing bumper stickers? It is Pride season already. The calendar is already heating up with events, large and small, across the globe. It has been 43 years removed from the riots on Christopher Street in New York’s West Village and our vehicles are shining up for another run to meet old friends, make new ones, tell those who are not out that “it gets better,” kiss the ring of those leading our charge on every level, dance to the latest club mix or diva on stage and so forth.

This Pride is marked by the fact that I represent my community as a member of the LGBT and automotive media. Yet, I am more involved in the automotive side of things that being gay is integral to my automotive identity – or, rather the work in this and on the pages of Lavender magazine.

Of course, I have jumped in the HRC sticker fray, but not on a vehicle. If you go on Twitter, you find photos of me working on my laptop with one stuck onto the case. There is a reason: The sticker that was previously slapped onto there did not come off the case correctly. The HRC logo was the best solution to that problem. It’ll do for now.

Just like automobiles, laptops can be personally identifiable.

The good folks behind Victory & Reseda wants to wish our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender readers, supporters and social media fans a great Pride Month. Go out there and celebrate at your Pride festival wherever you’re at! If it happens to be somewhere in Minnesota – you might see Randy Stern out and about! If you do, stop and say “hi!” Don’t be shy – he won’t bite!

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