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Topics In the News
Speaker of U.K. House of Commons Incorporates GLBTQ Symbols in His Heraldry
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/30/11
Last updated on: 12/04/11
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John Bercow's coat of arms.
On November 28, 2011, the official portrait and heraldry of John Bercow, Speaker of Great Britain's House of Commons, were unveiled. To the surprise of many, the heraldry includes a series of pink triangles and rainbow colors to highlight his role in championing glbtq rights.

The coat of arms, developed by the College of Arms, depicts Bercow's climb from humble beginnings as the son of a taxi driver to become one of the most senior commoners in the United Kingdom.

Bercow's upward mobility is represented by a ladder, while four rondels (or circular figures) signify his interest in tennis and curved notched blades of seaxes (scimitars) represent the University of Essex, which he attended.

The Speaker's commitment to equal rights is signified by the motto "All Are Equal," the individual words of which are framed by pink triangles. The ends of the scroll holding the motto are rolled under to reveal the colors of the rainbow flag.

Although the new coat of arms has attracted some indignant comment, more negative reaction has been visited upon the official portrait of the Speaker by Brendan Kelly, which depicts Bercow standing in front of the Speaker's chair issuing instructions to Members of Parliament. Most of the criticism has centered on the cost of the portrait rather than its quality.

In explaining the portrait, Kelly said: "I wanted to capture the day to day reality of a Speaker mid-action at work in the Chamber. This meant black robes and a House of Commons tie, the iconic Speaker's chair prominent in the composition, books and papers on the shelves and the Speaker himself, shown animated in the midst of conducting the daily business of the House of Commons."

Bercow has served in Parliament since 1997. He was a Conservative "frontbencher" being groomed for leadership until he defied his party in 2002 to support a Labour bill that allowed unmarried gay and heterosexual couples to adopt children.

He was elected Speaker of the House in 2009. He is the first Jewish Speaker of the House.

The Speaker presides over debates in the House, determining which members may speak. The Speaker is also responsible for maintaining order during debate, and may punish members who break the rules of the House.

Unlike presiding officers of legislatures in many other countries, including the United States, the Speaker of Britain's House of Commons is expected to remain strictly non-partisan. Upon assuming office, the Speaker renounces affiliation with his or her former political party.

The Speaker is one of the highest-ranking officials in the United Kingdom. By an Order in Council issued in 1919, the Speaker ranks in the order of precedence above all non-royal individuals except the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord President of the Council.

The official portrait and the coat of arms will hang in the Speaker's apartment in the Palace of Westminster, where Bercow resides with his wife Sally and their three children.

The incorporation of gay symbolism into the official coat of arms of a Speaker of the House of Commons is concrete evidence of the growing acceptance of gay rights in the United Kingdom.

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