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COMMENT: The poppy respects all soldiers – regardless of race, creed or sexuality

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IT’S a sad state of affairs when a person – or columnist – has to prefix their comments with a defensive (and probably futile) disclaimer to avoid being wilfully misinterpreted.

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Alas, such is the world in which we now live (thanks, social media!), so for the avoidance of doubt, allow me to stress the following: I am a firm supporter of gay and lesbian rights. I think Pride Month is very much a good thing and I simply don’t understand the mindset of homophobes. Honestly, why on earth care who other people do or don’t find attractive and/or want to sleep with?

Right, so having said that, allow me to now also say that I think the ‘rainbow poppy’ – the traditional remembrance poppy only with the colours of the Pride flag adorning its petals – is self-defeating, crass and unnecessary.

Here’s why...

The poppy symbolises something very specific: the sacrifices of servicemen and women during conflicts, in particular the First and Second World Wars. Its red colouring represents the blood that was spilled by ALL who have fought and died in combat, regardless of their race, creed or sexuality. By its very simplicity, the poppy symbolises equality in grief.

As such, and no matter what the intention, tampering with the poppy only ever lessens its universal message, and by dividing its symbolism, the rainbow poppy serves only to divide gay and lesbian servicemen and women from their fellow soldiers.

To me, this is the very opposite of inclusivity, given that it separates soldiers into groups based purely on their sexuality.

Of course, there is no denying that, historically, gay and lesbian citizens have been horrendously persecuted in the UK (a persecution which, sadly, is still fatally enacted elsewhere in the world, from Iran and Palestine to Saudi Arabia). The appalling treatment of the remarkable Alan Turing – unarguably one of Britain’s greatest war heroes – remains a stain on post-war UK history.

If the poppy pointedly excluded such individuals then there would indeed be cause to alter its message, but it categorically does not. And this is why so many object to the rainbow poppy: not because they’re against LGBT rights, but because it’s so unnecessary to muddy the poppy’s all-inclusive message.

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I’m a redhead, but I wouldn’t support the introduction of an orange-coloured poppy to show solidarity with persecuted gingers. I have a nephew with cystic fibrosis – a terrible life-threatening disease – but I don’t want to see poppies with ‘cysticfibrosis.org.uk’ written across the front either. Yes, I want people to support cystic fibrosis charities (donate today!), but not by hijacking a pre-established cause under contentious pretences.

Personally, I would be quite happy to see the back of all but the traditional Royal British Legion poppies. Remembrance Day has almost become like a distasteful competition in which certain poppy wearers seek to outdo one another with increasingly extravagant and eye-catching poppies.

‘So, you think you’re showing sufficient gratitude to our Armed Forces with your puny paper poppy, do you? Behold my mighty poppy the size of a dinner plate – now THAT’S respect!’

‘Ha! Call that impressive? Check out my stupendous metal poppy with three glittery poppies on the front. Beat THAT!’

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What next? A poppy that squirts water? A poppy that plays Rule Britannia when you press the plastic button?

It all seems of a piece with the modern-day need among some people to make absolutely everything about themselves, no matter what the occasion.

A particularly narcissistic example of this is the current fad for performing ‘jazz hands’ instead of clapping. The pretence is that waving your hands in the air shows compassion for those with autism and/or severe anxiety, but this ignores the fact there already exists autism-friendly events for this very purpose.

No, the real reason some favour jazz hands is because it’s an opportunity to draw attention to themselves. If you’re in a crowd and everyone is clapping, then the attention is firmly directed towards the individual or individuals receiving the applause.

However, if you’re in a crowd and you start waving your hands in the air like Al Jolson, well, now you’re the star of the show.

In much the same way, wear a regular poppy and you’re just another member of the public showing their respect. Wear an unorthodox poppy that differs from the norm, however, and suddenly you’re inviting attention.

Nothing wrong with attention-seekers, of course (other than that they’re mildly irritating), but there’s a time and a place.

Ultimately, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that the rainbow poppy wasn’t introduced to pay tribute to gay and lesbian soldiers (something which the regular poppy already does), but rather simply to cause controversy. Well, it certainly succeeded on that front, but to what purpose?

Please, can we just keep identity politics out of Remembrance Day?

‘Wear your poppy with pride’ respects all fallen soldiers, gay, straight or otherwise. ‘Wear your poppy for Pride’ doesn’t.

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