Published on 21 June 2023
An iconic dress made of 68 flags of nations where homosexuality is illegal has arrived in the UK for the very first time, unveiled in Sunderland as part of an international LGBTQIA+ conference being hosted in the city.
The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is a living work of art, made of all the national flags from countries where being LGBTIQ+ is illegal, on penalty of imprisonment, torture or capital punishment. When a country adopts LGBTIQ+ inclusive legislation, the respective flag is replaced with a rainbow flag.
The dress was on display at the National Glass Centre (NGC), part of the University of Sunderland, for one night only, joining a list of worldwide locations where it’s been photographed including Amsterdam, San Francisco, Madrid, Athens, Seoul, Antwerp, Johannesburg and Brussels, sharing its global message of inclusion and equal rights.
With a diameter of over 16m (52ft), the dress is a visual representation of the scale of homophobia, and has travelled to Sunderland to support the launch of the first International LGBTQIA+ Community Conference on Thursday (June 22), addressing the rights of sexual and gender minorities.
Human rights charity ReportOUT in partnership with the University of Sunderland have organised the ‘Safer To Be Me Symposium’, which will take place, on the University’s City Campus.
Visitors were able to view the monumental dress during a drinks reception at NGC, with speeches by members of the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation and ReportOUT.
Director at the Rainbow Dress Foundation, Arnout Van Krimpen, said: “It’s great to bring the dress here for the first time in the UK.
“When ReportOUT contacted us to explain more about their conference during Pride Month, I thought ‘yes’ we need to be here. Sunderland just seemed like the natural choice for the Rainbow Dress to be shown for the first time to a UK audience.
“We take this dress around iconic locations worldwide doing photoshoots, in order to reach as many people as possible and tell the story behind the dress, which on one layer it’s the criminalisation of LGBTQIA+ people, also about the broader discrimination worldwide.”
He added: “The dress should be seen as a conversation starter about the broader rights of LGBTQIA+ people. It is beautiful, so we can draw people in, it opens their mind, they want to know the story behind it and we can then feed them with the not-so-beautiful story behind it, they are then much more open to listen to that story, realising that a third of countries in the world are still criminalising LGBTQIA+ people.”
Drew Dalton, the Chair of Trustees at ReportOUT, and Senior Lecturer in Sociology / Programme Leader MSc Inequality and Society, says: "It was fantastic to see so many guests attend our launch night, to view the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress and listen to its history as a symbol of protest.
“The launch event gave us an opportunity to talk more about the important work ReportOut is doing all over the world. We want #SaferToBeMe to be open to all, find out more about global LBGTQI+ rights."
To attend the very first International LGBTQIA+ Community Conference, #SaferToBeMe Symposium, on Thursday, June 22, at Hope Street Exchange on City campus, go to #SaferToBeMe | Homepage (reportout.org)