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Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One champion, will wear his intersex-inclusive Progress Pride flag helmet at next month’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The British motor racing driver, the only Black driver in the series’ history, made a small but stunning show of solidarity at this weekend’s Qatar Pride Prix by donning the helmet.
With the words “We Stand Together” ribboning around it, the lid features the reworked Progress Flag designed by British intersex artist Valentino Vecchietti, with a yellow triangle and a purple circle added.
As F1 pitches up in the Middle East, the auto racing tournament has faced severe scrutiny among human rights activists.
In Qatar, homosexuality is illegal: Men can be jailed for years for sodomy. The law even has provisions for “inducing” a man to commit “immoral” acts.
LGBT+ people face similar punishments in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and then Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where the final two races of the season will be held.
And Hamilton fully intends to keep wearing his helmet for them both.
Lewis Hamilton praised by intersex Progress flag designer for support
“I’m not aware of any negative feedback,” the 36-year-old told reporters Saturday afternoon (20 November).
“I will be using the same helmet through probably the last two races after this, or at least next week also.
“On the back, it says ‘We Stand Together’ and ‘Love Is Love’ and it is important for me to support [the LGBT+] community here as I know there are several situations here that are not perfect and need to be highlighted.
“But I hope that someone reaches out and I would love to know what is happening here and what they’re doing to help that community more, the LGBT+ community.
“I wear to hear.”
With no criminal code, instead referring to the Islamic Sharia, Saudi Arabia sees homosexuality as a serious offence that can bring imprisonment, corporal punishment, vigilante attacks, chemical castration or even the death penalty.
While in the UAE, death, life in prison, floggings, forced anal examinations and hormone injections, among other grisly punishments, await LGBT+ people.
To Hamilton, the continued abuse and slayings of LGBT+ people in this way are “big issues”.
“And I’ve been trying to think what is it I can do?” he said.
“I’m only one person, and I think the sport and all the drivers together and athletes can do more.”
Vecchietti, a columnist who founded Intersex Equality Rights UK, thanked Hamilton for wearing their flag design on his crash helmet.
She designed the flag with the support of Stonewall and the LGBT+ Consortium in May, which quickly went viral.
“Lewis Hamilton has such a huge platform,” Vecchietti told PinkNews.
“When I found out that he was wearing my intersex-inclusive Pride flag on his crash helmet, I felt a mixture of joy and astonishment, and the enormity really hit me of what it means for our community to get this level of visibility, which we’ve never had before.
“It really is what I had hoped my version of the flag could do.”
By some estimates, almost two per cent of the global population is intersex, meaning they have natural variations in their sex characteristics that may have been born with.
And with his simple act, Hamilton has pulled into focus a community that has long lived in the shadows because of stigma and shame.
Demands to force-fit people into boxes have led to doctors enacting medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children, Vecchietti said. Intersex athletes, meanwhile, face scrutiny and exclusion for simply being who they are.
“We need our young people to know that they can grow up with equal opportunity and that they won’t be unfairly excluded from competing in sport,” the public speaker added.
“We need people to recognise that the ‘I’ is for intersex and what that means.
— Valentino Vecchietti (She/They) (@ValentinoInter) November 19, 2021
“LGBTI+, keeping the I visible, and to use this moment to create allyship and solidarity and help us make visible our struggle for liberation and gain support.”
“Seeing our flag means everything,” Vecchietti added. “Being visible and being included brings us so much joy and hope, and we need hope so much right now.”
Hamilton, who railed against the Hungarian government’s anti-LGBT+ laws in July, knows the importance of visibility.
“I hope that it highlights and sparks conversation,” Hamilton said.
“I hope that kids here and whoever is watching are asking what the flag is if they don’t know and why I am wearing it.”