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Identity

We Just Got 230 New Emojis, But Still No Trans Flag

Come on, we've even got a banjo.

by Anna Iovine
Jul 17 2019, 7:51pm

Image by Anna Iovine. 

Today is World Emoji Day, and to mark this "global celebration of emoji," Apple and Google showed off some of the new emojis coming this fall. In total, 230 emoji will debut this year, which will bring the total number of emoji to around 3250.

Emoji have made great strides in terms of diversity over the years, and this new batch is no different. The new emoji include walking canes, wheelchairs, and hearing aids. Plus, there will now be a prosthetic arm, prosthetic leg, and service dog emojis. And Unicode is adding dozens of "couple holding hands" emojis of various genders—including a gender neutral option—and races.

While those are all great and needed, there’s something else that’s still glaringly absent: more LGBTQ flags.

There are currently 268 country flag emojis, according to Emojipedia's blog, along with some fun ones thrown in like a checkered flag and a pirate flag. Yet, there is only one pride flag available: the rainbow flag. While the rainbow flag is steeped in queer history, it has not only been co-opted by seemingly every corporation every Pride Month, but it is just one of many flags that represent pride in the queer community.

The rainbow flag does have a universal "LGBTQ" connotation, but it is also associated specifically with the gay identity. There are many identities that fall under the LGBTQ umbrella, and most have their own popular flags. Yes, it’s just an emoji, but we deserve representation in such a ubiquitous form of communication. As someone who's bisexual, I'm tired of either using the rainbow flag or some kind of combination of the pink, purple, and blue (the color of the bi pride flag) heart emojis to represent my queerness.

The lack starts to feel a little absurd when you consider all the other seemingly random and arguably unnecessary emojis that exist, like the parachuting person, the banjo, and the stick of butter with a little bit sliced off. There is a pirate flag emoji—a pirate flag!—but no other pride flag emoji. The trans flag is supported by both WhatsApp and Twitter desktop (not the iOS app). Unicode, which creates the emojis for iPhones, however, does not have one.

But Unicode isn’t entirely to blame. New emojis go through a process of being proposed and reviewed by Unicode. According to Jeremy Burge, Chief Emoji Officer at Emojipedia, Unicode itself doesn't propose any new emojis. Rather, the public submits these proposals (though employees of Unicode, Apple, Google, and other emoji-adjacent companies may submit proposals as well) and Unicode reviews them.

"Unicode accepts proposals from the public for new emojis, which meet criteria such as being visually distinctive or required for technical compatibility with other platforms," Burge said in an email. "One selection factor requires proposal authors demonstrate that an emoji would see considerable use if approved."

The timeline from submission to approval varies as new emoji are approved annually. Burge used the bagel emoji as an example: the proposal was submitted in July 2017 and it was added to the lexicon a year later.

Unicode has a robust selection criteria for emoji, including how much they expect users to use said emoji, completeness (does it fill a gap in the emoji library?), and how often it is requested. Seems easy enough. But, Emojipedia's blog entry about flags mentions two obstacles to including more pride flags. One is the difficulty for determining which flags are "notable for representation" —however that's measured.

I'm definitely not the first person to point out this lack of representation. Trans activists Bianca Rey and Ted Eytan began a campaign to get the trans flag added in 2017. And activist Charlie Craggs created a Change.org petition that has amassed thousands of signatures. In response to their efforts, Unicode co-founder and president Mark Davis has said, "We can’t have an emoji to represent every single possible group of people in the world. We have to make some choices."

There is one glimmer of hope here: the trans flag is on the "short list" for possible 2020 emojis. That doesn't mean it will be included, however, and no other pride flags—such as the bisexual, pansexual, or genderqueer flag—are on said list, meaning we’ll have to wait until at least 2021 for those.

So, have you submitted your proposal yet?

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