An extraordinary dress adorned with flags representing 68 nations where homosexuality is deemed illegal has made its debut in the United Kingdom.

The dress was unveiled in Sunderland as part of an international LGBTQIA+ conference taking place in the city.

Known as the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, this remarkable garment serves as a living masterpiece. It incorporates the national flags of countries where LGBTIQ+ is punishable by imprisonment, torture, or even capital punishment. As each country progresses towards inclusive legislation for LGBTIQ+ individuals, their respective flag is replaced with the symbol of the rainbow flag.

For one evening only, the dress was proudly exhibited at the National Glass Centre (NGC), which is affiliated with the University of Sunderland. Sunderland now joins a prestigious list of global destinations where the dress has been showcased, including Amsterdam, San Francisco, Madrid, Athens, Seoul, Antwerp, Johannesburg, and Brussels. By visiting these locations, the dress aims to convey a powerful global message of inclusion and equal rights.

Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Unveiled in UK: A Symbolic Protest Against Homophobia
Steven Irvin-Duffy, Treasurer ReportOUT, Jodie Weatherston, Lecturer in Social Studies, Izak De-Dreu, Rainbow Foundation Assistant, , Arnout Van Krimpen, Director at the Rainbow Dress Foundation and Drew Dalton, the Chair of Trustees at ReportOUT, and Senior Lecturer in Sociology / Programme Leader MSc Inequality and Society

With a diameter exceeding 16 metres (52 feet), the dress visually represents the vast scale of homophobia prevalent in many societies. Its arrival in Sunderland serves as a show of support for the inaugural International LGBTQIA+ Community Conference, scheduled for Thursday, June 22. This conference will address the rights of sexual and gender minorities.

The ‘Safer To Be Me Symposium,’ organised by the human rights charity ReportOUT in partnership with the University of Sunderland, will be held on the University’s City Campus. During a reception at NGC, attendees had the opportunity to marvel at this monumental dress while listening to speeches by members of the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation and ReportOUT.

Arnout Van Krimpen, Director at the Rainbow Dress Foundation, expressed his delight at bringing the dress to the UK for the first time. When ReportOUT approached them about their conference coinciding with Pride Month, he felt compelled to showcase the dress in Sunderland. Van Krimpen believed that Sunderland was a natural choice to introduce the Rainbow Dress to a British audience.

“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.”

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