LGBT+ Pride Progress flag removed from prisons after complaint from MP

Wandsworth prison with the flag on display (left) and the Progress Pride flag (right). Credit: PA/Human Rights Campaign

LGBTQIA+ Pride Progress flags have been taken down at two prisons following a complaint from an MP.

The flag is a version of the traditional Pride flag with additional colours to represent the trans community, people of colour, and those who died during the HIV and AIDS crisis, according to Human Rights Campaign.

In another version of the flag, a purple circle is also included to represented the intersex community. It's unclear which flag was on display.

Conservative MP Nick Fletcher complained to the Justice Secretary that the flag "promotes the idea you can be born in the wrong body" and therefore shouldn't be on display at prisons.

Equality campaigners said the MP's remarks "show a lack of knowledge about human diversity".

A letter from the justice secretary, shared by Mr Fletcher on X (formerly Twitter), confirmed the flags had been "duly taken down" from HMP Pentonville and HMP Wandsworth.

On the left, the traditional Pride flag with six colours and, on the right, the Intersex-Inclusive Pride flag. Credit: Human Rights Campaign / Valentino Vecchietti

Explaining the removal of the flags, justice secretary Alex Chalk wrote: "I understand the intention behind flying the flags was to show support for the LGBT+ community among Prisons and Probation staff".

He added, however, that "the choice of flag was not the correct one in these instances".

The letter, in response to Mr Fletcher's letter titled 'gender ideology flag being flown above prisons in London', goes onto explain that prisons must adhere to a centralised guide on which flags to fly.

Mr Chalk writes: "The six-stripe 'rainbow flag' is one of the flags authorities to be flown [...] but this permission does not extend to any other representative versions, including the one incorrectly flown."

While the justice secretary doesn't comment on Mr Fletcher's "gender ideology" claim, he does write: "I acknowledge the points you raise in respect of this issue, and the connotations inherent in raising a flag at any establishment."

Mr Fletcher, who represents Don Valley, shared the letter on X and wrote: "Govt. depts should not promote harmful ideology [sic]."

The MP said the flag promotes an "ideology [which] harms vulnerable people" and claimed "much more work is needed from Government Ministers [sic] to remove the influence of this ideology from across government departments."

The Pride Progress Flag, and the Intersex-Inclusive Pride Flag, have both been widely accepted by the LGBTQIA+ community and allies since their creation by Daniel Quasar in 2018 and Valentino Vecchietti in 2021 respectively.

Vecchietti, who founded Intersex Equality Rights UK, said Mr Fletcher's "remarks stating that our Pride flag represents an ideology appears to show a lack of knowledge about human diversity. "

The creator added: "The LGBTI+ Pride flag does not represent an ideology, it is a cultural symbol that represents our existence as human beings with natural diversity. Being human is not an ideology. However, it is ideological to contextualise human beings as merely an idea, which is what Mr Fletcher’s remarks appear to do."

They continued: "We know from the UK 2021 Census that approximately 2.7% of Mr Fletcher’s South Yorkshire constituency are LGBT+, and Mr. Fletcher’s duty as an MP is to represent all his constituents [...] I would welcome the opportunity to meet with Mr. Fletcher and support him to better understand our LGBTI+ community, and our natural diversity in sexual orientation and orientations, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics".

People take a selfie with the Intersex-Inclusive Pride flags on Regent Street ahead of 2023's Pride in London. Credit: PA

On the decision to remove the flags, Vecchietti said: "I am concerned that this ruling overturns the LGBTI+ staff’s choice of Pride flag. I believe that LGBTI+ staff have the right to choose which Pride flag best represents our community in their staff networks."

They said they would like to work with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Ministry of Housing on updating their Pride flag guidance, "because I believe that this guidance was not designed to dictate to our LGBTI+ community which iteration of our Pride flag we can use, but rather the intention of the guidance is to support inclusion and respect for our LGBTI+ community by ensuring we have the right to fly our Pride flag."

HMP Pentonville, one of Britain’s oldest jails, was found to be an "unfit" place for prisoners to live or to be rehabilitated in a recent watchdog report.

Monitors in the north London prison found its population had surged to nearly 1,150 inmates, far exceeding its intended capacity.

The report said the “lack of privacy alone could not be described as decent or humane.”

HMP Wandsworth faced similar scrutiny in September after terror suspect Daniel Khalife was accused of escaping the jail.

An Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) report on Wandsworth Prison painted a bleak picture of conditions at the south-west London site, with 1,584 inmates in a building designed for 961.

The jail, one of the most overcrowded in the country, faces chronic staff shortages, rising violence and inmates able to get contraband via drone or being thrown over the wall, the report said.

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