People are mad about The Great British Baking Show's rainbow bagels. Here's why

The Great British Baking Show, the reality competition that airs on Netflix and PBS, just concluded Bread Week. One of the week's challenges — rainbow-colored bagels — turned out to be too difficult to pull off for most contestants (via AV Club). The segment also left a bad taste in the mouths of many viewers, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. Paul Hollywood, longtime judge on the show, said the rainbow represented the British National Health Service, or NHS. While he acknowledged that the rainbow symbol "originated in the States," he said nothing of how the rainbow has become an international symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and support. When he told his fellow judge Prue Leith, "I think it represents the NHS," she responded, "Well, it does now" (via MailOnline).

That's exactly why members of the LGBTQ+ community are upset. British broadcast regulator Ofcom received 18 complaints about Hollywood associating the rainbow with NHS rather than the LGBTQ+ community, according to MailOnline. Hollywood's statement seemed to reflect the attitudes of older, more conservative-minded people in the UK, who have decided it's OK to fly the rainbow flag because now it represents the NHS — and not gay pride.

Some in the UK who fly the rainbow flag won't acknowledge its roots

At one time it took a lot of courage to fly a flag that represents people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the meaning of the rainbow has morphed in the UK to represent the NHS. People who say they do not value the LGBTQ+ cause are now happy to show a rainbow in their window or fly the flag because the NHS has done a good job controlling the pandemic (via Forbes). As @J3Lyon explained in a Twitter thread, his grandfather displays a rainbow flag on his front lawn and insists it's an NHS flag. "My grandad who is a staunch 'I've got nothing against them, but I don't want to know about it' has put this up out front and refuses to accept it's an LGBT pride flag."

While some people on Twitter don't see any problem with repurposing the rainbow symbol, people in the LGBTQ+ community say they feel threatened. "We've fought so long for a place in the world. I feel that this has weakened our power and stance within the country and world," Twitter user Chuck Deer told Forbes. "There are many other ways to show your support for the NHS rather than using a symbol that has an alternate meaning for a large portion of the population."

The NHS adopted the rainbow to show LGBTQ+ support

The rainbow has come to be associated with the NHS during the pandemic because Britain's health secretary has been wearing the pin during COVID briefings on TV (via Decider). Ironically, NHS staff started wearing rainbow pins in 2018 to show more support to the LGBTQ+ community. As NHS explains on Twitter, the rainbow pin is meant to send a message to patients: "I am a good person to talk to about LGBT+ issues and I will do my best to help you if you need it." The NHS website mentions a survey from 2018 showing that some LGBTQ+ patients aren't getting health care because they fear discrimination.

Concern among members of the LGBTQ+ community that their flag is being repurposed by people who don't support their cause is about more than a symbol. LGBTQ+ rights are under political threat during the pandemic, according to Forbes. The problem has become big enough that the United Nations is asking member countries not to use the pandemic as an excuse to take away this group's rights.