Looks like we won’t be celebrating bisexual pride with a bisexual flag emoji any time soon. LGBTQ inclusivity in emoji platforms has been a subject of debate for a long time and it appears like that journey is far from over since the bisexual pride flag will not be included in 2021’s emoji release.
Unicode Consortium, the organization that governs internationally recognized symbols, turned down a proposal submitted by tech engineer and bisexual activist Tanner Marino early in 2020. Marino subsequently launched a Change.org petition in November to encourage Unicode to change their decision. The petition has amassed over 15,000 signatures in the past month but there is still no response from Unicode. In fact, the organization has paused emoji proposals until April 2021 which could greatly impact the future of LGBTQ emoji requests.
We’ve come a long way from the days of only heterosexual couple emojis and no gender-neutral emojis. We have a pride flag emoji. A long but successful battle to have trans pride flag emoji was won this year. So why did Unicode reject the bisexual pride flag?
Emoji proposals have a lot of hoops to jump through.
The journey of an emoji from idea to something you can use in your texts is a lengthy one. Unicode takes submissions from the general public. They are reviewed by a handful of individuals on the Emoji Subcommittee in the early months of each year. Anyone can submit an idea but there are strict criteria for each proposal. Vendors including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook don’t have their say until proposals are approved by Unicode.
So what makes a good proposal? Unfortunately for the LGBTQ community, representation and political correctness is not a huge concern of Unicode. Nor do they pay much attention to petitions. The Unicode website states: “The submission and selection process isn’t affected by simple suggestions, nor by petitions, nor by letters/tweets from celebrities/government officials.”
The organization definitely favors statistical evidence. According to statistics compiled by Unicode, flags are among the least used emojis. This may explain Unicode’s unwillingness to concentrate their efforts on this category. What Unicode does recommend for approval is making group submissions and offering compelling evidence. But considering petitioners for the emoji have made it clear that a lack of bisexual representation contributes to the mental health problems of this group, it’s possible that Unicode and bisexual activists have a different definition of what “compelling evidence” means.
The battle for a trans pride flag emoji shows what it takes to get LGBTQ representation in emojis. It’s the same case for the bisexual flag.
Of course, if you followed the movement to get a trans pride flag approved by Unicode, the story of the bisexual pride flag emoji will sound familiar. The trans flag took several years of submissions, a team of dedicated activists, and devoted media pressure before it was included in the official 2020 emoji additions.
If you thought this movement might at least open doors for other gender and sexuality representations, think again. Marino has left his Change.org petition open, knowing that the effort to get bisexual representation in emojis could follow the same drawn-out fate. That said, in the years leading up to the trans flag emoji approval, Unicode managed to approve hundreds of new emojis including a cupcake, an otter, and broccoli. Are there international movements for these emojis? Is anyone relying on these emojis for representation and validation? It’s more than just an emoji.
A pixelated pink, purple and blue flag will not end bi-phobia.
It may not stop people from making comments like “They’re just confused”, “She’s just easy” or “He’s gay, he just hasn’t realized it yet.” But a bisexual pride flag emoji would be a small win for a community that often lacks representation. On his Change.org petition, Marino includes a quote from Sara. Sara is a bisexual woman living under an Islamic Regime where it’s illegal to publicly demonstrate sexuality.
She says, “A bisexual flag emoji can spark curiosity: people will see it and wonder why this three colored rectangle exists and what it means. It may even lead to their own self-discovery. I want people to know that my sexuality is valid and I’m not a confused person. I love to flaunt my bisexuality as much as I can. So I would love to express myself with the flag that I’m so proud to be a part of.”
Emojis are a universal language. For the bisexual community, this would be an important means of expression and representation that can be used around the globe. Besides, who is it hurting to validate the identities of the bisexual community?