A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Birmingham City Council was putting £10,000 towards a diamante-studded statue of a rhinoceros that is going to mark the entrance to the city’s gay village.
I’ve been aware of the rhino as an lgbt symbol for several years but didn’t really look into it all that much.
’s rhinestone rhino got me more interested. So here’s what I’ve found out. Birmingham
The purple rhinoceros first became a symbol of the lgbt community in December 1974. It was the idea of 2 gay rights activists living in
, called Bernie Toale and Tom Morganti. The rhino was chosen, Toale said at the start of the campaign, because it was a very misunderstood animal, not unlike the gay community at the time. He pointed out that when threatened or angered the rhino would fight ferociously. Again, this summed up the gay community. Boston, Massachusetts
Even though the rhino is often called purple the original design was actually a slightly lighter lavender in colour, a widely used colour in the community (the reason why will be given in a Flower Power post later in the year). The heart was added as a symbol of love and humanity.
The rhino appeared on posters Toale designed to raise awareness of gay issues around
, and it appeared on the walls of the Boston underground system and public advertising spaces. After a while the cost of the campaign got too much and since they couldn’t afford to pay Boston ’s public service advertising rates the posters stopped being printed. It seemed for a while that the purple rhino would disappear for good. Boston
Even though the original purple rhino faded into the history books it was often referred to in later publications and, more recently still, websites. This breathed new life into the rhino and brought it out of
and into the wider world. It was picked up by a few lgbt groups and organisations, and if you Google “purple rhino” a long list of these will appear. In 2009 it was even suggested as an alternative to the Rainbow Pride flag (pictured below). Boston
rhino came about through a competition. The Birmingham LGBT group and lgbt businesses in the gay village in the city felt that a distinctive sculpture would enhance the revitalisation of the city centre. With various grants and remaining funds from the council’s revitalisation budget, a competition was organised. Birmingham
The winning idea came from Robbie Coleman. It will be a larger-than-life-size rhino encrusted with diamante to represent the city’s great jewellery heritage. Diamonds were also used by the Mattachine Society, a gay rights movement set up in the
in the 1970s. USA
It remains to be seen whether the
rhino become a tourist attraction in its own right. But it makes me wonder if a gay village in any other city has a sculpture at its entrance. Birmingham