Peterhouse and the LGBT+ flag: A well-meaning but meaningless gesture

Stevie Hertz 29 February 2016

LGBT+ month has been a huge success, with many events and showcases showing the wealth of support across Cambridge for people from all backgrounds. Indeed, many colleges elected to fly the rainbow flag in support of this movement, believing it to be a meaningful and concrete gesture towards solidarity.

For many colleges, this was not an easy decision – Trinity for one refused because of long-standing tradition, but others like Pembroke decided to reform their practises and saw how positive a gesture flying the flag was. I'm sure you've all seen dozens of articles both pro- and anti- flying the flag, but what happened in my college deserves discussing. As newly elected LGBT+ Officer at Peterhouse, I requested that the college fly the flag at the end of the month – permission had not even asked for the start owing to an administrative mix up, and I was hopeful that a college which recently elected a female and LGBT+ master would understand the importance of the rainbow flag.

This was turned down. College decided that tradition was more important than support, and compromised by flying the college flag. This gesture was undoubtedly well-meaning and was supposed to express their backing for the proposal. What was not understood was that it instead shows a college playing to its reputation as conservative. Concerns across Cambridge are about the fact that it could be a political gesture – the rainbow flag is not is a denominational or political flag and it does not denote affliction with any nation or institution. It is a rainbow because it is meant to be an all-encompassing symbol of unity and acceptance, not political notions, but deep moral values.

What I find particularly strange is the argument that the rainbow flag could be a precedent for other groups flying a flag – what this does is marginalise the LGBT+ movement to being like a society or a club. I defy anyone to give an example of another flag which is so accepting as a symbol.

It must be explained and understood that gestures such as this do not help. A college flag has never been and will never be a substitution for one representing so many people worldwide, many of whom live in real fear for their lives. While it certainly means a lot as a symbol of the college, it means nothing for LGBT+ people. I have been told I should be pleased that college are showing support, and that it is a celebration in the college's own traditional way. This sticks in my throat – it does not represent me or any of the people who voted for me. I would have preferred there to be no flag from my college on the end of LGBT+ history month than this, as then at least there would be more understanding how little it means. Those who choose tradition are stuck in the past, and need to understand the world has changed. Not flying a rainbow flag has become just as much, if not more, of a political statement than flying it, and that statement is not one which we should stand for.