The bisexual flag has become a familiar sight at LGBTQ pride events with its stripes of pink, purple, and blue.
While it’s now widely used, one group attempted to claim legal ownership of it on Twitter, causing all bisexual hell to break loose.
On Wednesday, a group called BiNet USA tweeted that it was the “copyright” owner of the bisexual pride flag, sparking instant fury. BiNet is a nonprofit that advocates for people who are bisexual, pansexual, fluid, or otherwise attracted to more than one gender.
In a series of now-deleted tweets, BiNet called out retailers that used the bisexual flag and claimed that its permission was required for the design’s use.
The bisexual pride flag was created in 1998 by activist Michael Page. As many have pointed out, a now-defunct webpage created by Page said the flag is “the only bisexual symbol not patented, trademarked or service marked.”
But that’s not so, according to the tweets from BiNet.
The account provided no proof of its claim. Simple geometric designs, like the bisexual pride flag, are generally not eligible for copyright protection. BuzzFeed News was also unable to locate the flag in a database of US trademarks, although registering in that database is voluntary.
BiNet has since deleted its Twitter account and has not replied to requests for comment. BuzzFeed News has also reached out to BiNet’s president, Faith Cheltenham, but did not receive a response.
Cheltenham did post on BiNet’s Facebook group saying there’s been a lot of “misinformation” and that their intention is to address those making a profit with giving back. “If you’re selling stuff, are you giving back to community and how? Where do we see it?” she wrote.
The tweets sent shockwaves through the bisexual community, who have longed used the flag as a point of pride and community building. The reaction was swift and angry.
One of the people most shocked by the tweets was Jayne B. Shea, the person mentioned at the start of BiNet’s Twitter thread.
Shea is an author and advocate who runs a website that sells bisexual-themed merchandise. What she finds most bizarre is that, as a small business owner and community member, she was targeted first.
“It was just so strange and shocking because the first tweet had my handle in it, before people like Target,” she told BuzzFeed News. “They seem to believe that I’m making a lot of money off of this.”
She said her online store is just a side business and the money it makes goes toward buying booths at pride events to promote the bisexual community.
“When I first started going to Pride, I was the only bi booth there,” she said. “Over the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen the bi community have more visibility and representation.”
She said BiNet had sent her a message on Facebook prior to the tweets asking for her legal name and address. She did not respond and has received no other formal communication from BiNet, such as a cease-and-desist letter. But it was all enough to shock her and make her worry about her business.
“I was shell-shocked. I was sobbing on my couch,” she said. “It was a really scary few hours because I didn’t know if all the work that I’ve done was over. I thought that that was gone.”
However, the community has rallied around her.
She said the messages of support have helped her through this “bizarre” time.
It’s unclear whether the tweets from the BiNet account were supported by any other members of its board. One member, Lauren Beach, tweeted that the organization’s president was behind the tweets and that a statement is forthcoming.
She also tweeted about BiNet’s long history of advocating for the community.
Another member, Ron Suresha, tweeted that the board would be convening on Thursday.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Beach and Suresha for comment.
Lauren Strapagiel is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.
Contact Lauren Strapagiel at [email protected].
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