Sunderland to welcome iconic Amsterdam Rainbow Dress – made of the 68 flags of nations where homosexuality is illegal

Graham Robson April 4, 2023

Lead Pic: The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in Sydney, Australia. Pic by Cassandra Hannagan 

An iconic dress made of 68 flags of nations where homosexuality is illegal is heading to the UK for the first time as part of an international LGBTQ+ conference in Sunderland.

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is a living work of art, made of all the national flags from countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal, on penalty of imprisonment, torture or capital punishment. When a country adopts LGBTQ+ inclusive legislation, the respective flag is replaced with a rainbow flag.

Already photographed in locations across the world including Amsterdam, San Francisco, Madrid, Athens, Seoul, Antwerp, Johannesburg and Brussels, sharing its global message of inclusion and equal rights, the dress will arrive at the National Glass Centre (NGC), part of the University of Sunderland, on Tuesday, June 20. 

The dress, with a diameter of over 16 metres (52ft), is a visual representation of the scale of homophobia, and will be unveiled to support the launch of the very first International LGBTQIA+ Community Conference (Thursday, June 22), addressing the rights of sexual and gender minorities.

Berlin, 2020, Paul Green and Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation

Human rights charity ReportOUT in partnership with the University of Sunderland has announced the Safer To Be Me Symposium, which will take place, on the University’s City Campus.

Visitors will be able to view the monumental dress during a drinks reception at NGC, attended by members of the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation, and a speech from Drew Dalton, the Chair of Trustees at ReportOUT.

Drew says: “We welcome everyone to come along to our launch night, to view the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress and listen to its history as a symbol of protest. We want #SaferToBeMe to be open to all, so please grab a ticket, and find out more about global LBGTQ+ rights.”

Arnout van Krimpen, Director of the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation, added: “During my travels with the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress over the past seven years, it has become clear that art is a very suitable medium to make people think and to talk about LGBTQ+ rights and emancipation.

“We attract attention with a beautiful object and thus lower the threshold to the less beautiful story behind the object. Artivism works!”

Amsterdam, 2016, Pieter Henket and Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation

The #SaferToBeMe symposium will create a safe space where some of the most important issues facing international LGBTQ+ human rights can be explored and discussed in detail, as well as encouraging a call to action where all involved can identify meaningful ways to be proactive and make a powerful impact.

“This Symposium is sorely needed at a time when the global rights of sexual and gender minorities are on a precipice,” says Drew, who is also a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Sunderland.

“Whilst we see countries dropping like dominoes in terms of decriminalising same-sex activity and the voices of our community being louder than ever, we are also seeing a well-organised global fightback with punitive laws being enacted, growing transphobia and camps for LGBTQ+ people being set up.”

Drew added: “For our Symposium, we will bring together academics, activists, civil society leaders and organisations to develop a Research and Knowledge Exchange group which will live long after the Symposium itself, to work together to find solutions to the human rights abuses and development needs of sexual and gender minorities. It is time for #SaferToBeMe to ring out loud. We hope you will save the date.”

Drew Dalton

The day-long conference will also include a screening of the film Flee, the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Festival, which tells the extraordinary true story of a man, Amin, on the verge of marriage which compels him to reveal his hidden past for the first time.

For more information about the conference, the Rainbow Dress and ticket, visit the official ReportOUT website and follow #SAFERTOBEME.