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Politicising the poppy?

Source: Staff Sgt. Stephen Linch (via Wikimedia Commons)

by Bethany Hall

Poppies and November 11th go hand and hand, both a salute to the other. 

Since 1918, we have taken a moment out of our Sunday to reflect on the people who valiantly gave their lives for their country in the First World War. At the eleventh dong we stand, pacified, celebrating armistice and just remembering. In this world of political uncertainty, us British people, for two minutes, are silent and thankful…which makes a change. And how do we remember? Well, we don our 20p paper poppies to show respect for those who loved and were loved.

closeup photo of multicolored stripe flag
LGBTQ+: The rainbow poppy still remembers those who lost their lives in the war. Source: Sharon McCutcheon (via Unsplash)

In recent news – and outraged Facebook posts – a rainbow poppy that surfaced from an online marketplace started gaining interest. There was an outrage among many: Why do the LGBT community need to make everything about them? Why do we need to stick a rainbow on a poppy? Can’t we just have one poppy to remember everyone? Well, that seems like an ideal world.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. In my utopia, Beyoncé would be president of the world, but unfortunately we’re as far away from that as we are from dinosaurs being reborn. Instead, we live in a world where outrage about the colour of a poppy is a justification for homophobia.  Where was the outrage in 2010 when the black poppy was released to celebrate the lives of black, African and Caribbean soldiers that suffered in the war? Where was the outrage when in 2015 a purple poppy was released that commemorated the lives of animals that suffered in the war? Why is it that we can accept a poppy specifically celebrating animals that were affected by the war efforts, but we can’t accept a poppy that pays tribute to the LGBT+ community? If a poppy for Chelsea F.C can be sold online by the Royal British Legion for £2.99, then so should a rainbow poppy. And what about the people who use the poppy to justify war and violence? We should be encouraging remembrance and learning from our mistakes; reflecting on why they put the guns down, not why we should pick them up again!

“The poppy should represent every single soldier, regardless of race, gender or sexuality.”

We also need to recognise that a lot of those mistakes included the mistreatment of homosexuals. Take Alan Turing, for example, a man who was highly influential in the success of the war efforts yet endured horrific abuse because of his sexuality. Or Wilfred Owen who, without his harrowing war poetry, would leave GCSE English teachers with nothing to talk about but ‘Lord of the Flies’

At the heart of it all, however, it doesn’t matter what the poppy looks like, as long as it’s there and visible. I think the poppy should represent every single soldier, regardless of race, gender or sexuality. It should be unifying us in these divisive times, not widening the gap between our communities.

Every soldier, pilot, navy officer and medic had their lives turned upside down by war, so the least we can do is show the same amount of camaraderie that they did. They gave their lives so we could sit around drinking over-brewed tea, watching the news and worrying about who’s going to be on ‘I’m A Celeb’ this year. Our mundanities were made possible by their sacrifices and we have Remembrance Sunday to reflect on that, rainbow poppy or not.

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