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Modern Semaphore: Flying of the Pride Flag on the RRS James Cook

By James Strong

When I was younger, Pride was a rather public highlight in an otherwise secretive calendar. I’ll never forget being awed by the sight of the middle of London being utterly immobilised by throngs of pride marchers or by watching drag queens trade insults with fundamental Christians in Belfast. However, I’m a bit older now and I’ll be honest and say I’m not as enthusiastic about Pride as I once was. Its all a bit like Christmas: tacky, excessive and having lost some of its meaning. I’m still a very willing volunteer at every Southampton Pride, but I can’t help but feel more like a spectator than someone enjoying their moment in the sun. 

I thought Pride was going to pass me by this year whilst I spend three wonderful weeks helping on the PAP expedition, and doing my bit to contribute to an essential times series that tracks pelagic and benthic (abyssal) change over time. But to my surprise, it was announced, without embarrassment or awkwardness, that the Pride flag would be hoisted above the RRS James Cook. As the moment approaches, I was increasingly concerned that this was going to be no more than a token gesture. However, at the point of flying the flag, I was quickly and happily dissuaded of this notion when I became aware of the enthusiasm and earnest interest apparent within the substantial group of fellow scientists present. John, the affable Master of the James Cook, was on hand to raise the flag (rightly not trusting a scientist to tie a knot at sea). The considerable effort of the hardworking galley staff to provide a colourful Pride menu, featuring Pride cupcakes (as well as making two desserts and birthday cake – where do they find the time!?), convinced me that my floating family had embrace the spirit of the day.

Top: Special touches from the galley staff to celebrate Pride Day on JC263. Bottom: Proudly flying the flag on the RRS James Cook. Photos © James Strong

As I’m on an expedition contributing to a unique and informative time series, it’s perhaps appropriate to reflect on change over time more broadly. Pride is no longer a segregated ‘party in the park’ or a confrontation march down a street, it’s become main-stream, and not in a bad way. Its evolved into a more meaningful, and less boozy, statement that everyone’s presence is acknowledged in the ‘everyday’, e.g. at work, in our supermarkets and in the media. Don’t get me wrong, if we meet, I’d still rather talk about bathymetry than my boyfriend, but how nice not to have to think twice before mentioning the latter amongst by colleagues. The raising of the Pride flag, on a ship I’m proud to work on, was a happy highlight during a busy but inspirational expedition. It is also a healthy reminder that members of the LGBTQ+ community are a bit like abyssal sea cucumbers; we’re everywhere and there’s more of us than you think!

Happy Pride 2024! Photo © Andrew Gates