Queens’ LGBT Officer’s take on the Trans Flag incident

Content warning: this article mentions queerphobia, transphobia, Trans and Pride flags being removed, Coronavirus, mental health, gender and sexual identity and gender expression.

It is hugely disappointing that Queens’ have chosen to remove the Trans and Pride flags from students’ windows, and with it remove the opportunity for personal expression and visibility of students which it claims to protect. In this case, the flag ban seems sorely misjudged for two reasons. Firstly, the removals took place in the run up to Trans Awareness Week, which is a time to celebrate personal gender identity as well as commemorate the oppressed. Secondly, since coronavirus and the second lockdown, it’s been particularly hard to maintain a sense of belonging and cohesion in the queer community. Whilst flags may seem tokenistic to some, they do offer symbolic acceptance and pride – something which is undoubtedly needed in these isolating times. To choose a celebratory week in a national lockdown feels mindless at best and targeted at worst. What is particularly damning is that in previous years, political symbols such as EU flags have been hung in windows; and therefore any argument by college that suggests allowing flags is politically antagonistic are wholly redundant. Of course, the fact that our gender and sexual identity is politicised already sits at the crux of this issue. I therefore am personally endeavouring to amend the rules to allow the hanging of flags within our room windows, as long as they do not insight hate and/or violence. And of course, I offer my continued support to those LGBT+ students who need it.

Despite my disappointment with much of the college’s response, we should be wary of  jumping to the conclusion that they are attacking the LGBT+ community. Some may find this response surprising, but having been the one liaising with college, I feel like I perhaps understand the decision processes slightly better. The minute there were complaints, senior leadership contacted me and asked what they should do to resolve it. They expressed a willingness to fly the Trans flag from the bridge and have sent maintenance out to help me achieve this. We are now in discussions about clarifying the Student Rule Book, with college potentially being more lenient on flags within windows. To take the conversation beyond flags, Queens’ has recently consented to a Gender Expression Fund, and our first applications are rolling through. I also had members of the senior college team contacting me before term started to check incoming freshers’ pronouns to ensure no one would be misgendered in supervisions or by college staff. I’m not saying that these solutions are perfect, or negate the clear institutionalised queerphobia that is attached to most Cambridge colleges. However, I feel it necessary to highlight these progressions, because this is not necessarily the damning story people thought it might be.

As a final note, whilst Queens’ has rightly been brought to the forefront of this issue due to online debate – and it’s vital that we as Queens’ students hold our college accountable for their actions – I think it’s also important to reiterate that our story is not an anomaly. It is great to see Trans flags at Robinson, Newnham and Clare, but they are sparse around the rest of the city. Many other colleges also have bans on individual flag flying and from accounts of Pembroke for instance, the college responded to issues raised by the LGBT+ officer with thoroughly offensive comparisons between the Trans flag and people hanging their dirty washing out of windows. This is not pointing the finger of blame, nor an attempt to exonerate Queens’, but rather to highlight that these issues are university wide. Regardless of the collegiate system, we are one student body and should be attempting to progress trans rights in every realm of university life. Queens’ showed us an example of how not to deal with Trans issues sensitively and correctly, so let’s use it as an example to ensure other colleges do better. 

Robbie 

LGBT+ Officer, Queens’

(He/They)