More colleges than ever fly LGBT flag

Sophie Dickinson 1 February 2018
Image credit: Jack Thompson

LGBT History Month began today, accompanied by the traditional flurry of flag-raising across the city, with only four colleges still not participating: Trinity, Trinity Hall, St John’s and Clare Hall. The Cambridge Student has learned that despite Fitzwilliam, Jesus, and St Edmund’s not flying the rainbow flag in previous years, they will be in 2018, which has been hailed as a victory by prominent members of the Cambridge LGBT+ community. Some colleges are participating from less traditional outposts- Queens are displaying the flag from the Mathematical Bridge, for example, rather than their main flagpole.

14 colleges flew the flag at some point last year, making this year’s total of 21 flagpoles an all-time high. A specific flag-flying committee was set up at Jesus in 2017, with the aim of preventing flags other than the Royal Standard and the college flag from being flown. Negotiations to prevent this constitutional change were, however, successful, and rainbow-themed decorations will adorn the college for the first time from today.

The Jesus LGBT+ Officer, Holly Bracewell, celebrated the change of college policy this morning, commenting that “The JSCU President Edward Parker and I raised the flag ourselves this morning in the presence of many students.”

She went on to describe the process of changing Jesus’ attitude to the flag, detailing that “Through a very carefully drafted proposal, we managed to get the flag flown for the first and last day of February, [and] we have bunting around Cloister Court for the duration of the month and the website has been adapted to show pictures of the flag too. The student body was almost unanimously behind this.”

Bracewell ended by saying “We’re absolutely delighted with this achievement – we thought our chances were slim so this morning was a huge moment for us. I don’t think I’ve stopped crying.”

CUSU LGBT President Ali Hyde also commented, saying “Flying the flag is important: it is a symbol of colleges both showing their support and solidarity with their LGBT+ students and staff, and their dedication to the welfare of those communities”.

In contrast, Laurie O’Connel, the Trinity Hall LGBT+ Officer, spoke of his disappointment at the college’s refusal to participate fully in the celebrations. He said that “Our MCR officers in particular have worked really hard with college to get them to fly a rainbow flag, for several years now, and have been met with a completely belligerent response. Trinity Hall is trying to stick to its traditional flag flying policy, but this means its just prioritising an antiquated and frankly pointless tradition over showing support for the welfare and rights of LGBT people- showing complete disdain for the LGBT community in college and in general.”

O’Connel went on to comment that while this “May be a bit harsh, it’s only the truth [sic] and it’s utterly shocking that college can still choose to ‘abstain’ from something like this in this day and age and expect LGBT people to be okay with it.”

LGBT History Month aims to increase the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and promote the history of LGBT culture. The stripes of the rainbow flag each represent an element of the LGBT spectrum, and was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978. The flag is now synonymous with Pride celebrations, including parades, the first of which for Cambridge should be held this year. 

Emmanuel was the first college to fly the transgender flag last November, to mark Transgender Awareness Week. At the time, ECSU JCR President Katie Nelson said “It was paramount for me that visibility actions were not just directed towards LGB people, and that the T was not forgotten”.

The autonomous campaign has a series of events planned for the month, including a screening of Paris is Burning tonight in Jesus bar, and a Megaformal at Clare on the 6th February.

Cambridge City Council are also marking History Month with various events, and flag-flying from major administrative buildings.