Many Oxford Colleges will be raising the Rainbow Flag this Wednesday in support of LGBT History month.
The initiative, begun by Wadham LGBTQ representative Michael Brooks, has gained the support of many JCRs and SCRs around Oxford. However some colleges have refused to fly the flag, despite their JCR’s having passed motions in support.
Pembroke college will not be flying a flag as their flagpole is at half mast due to the death of an old member. However, they had already rejected the proposal from students to fly the rainbow flag. Thomas Barber, LGBTQ Rep, states that college told him raising the LGBT flag would promote inequality by privileging the rights of one group over another, also that despite the actions of other colleges Pembroke would not give in to “the tyranny of the majority.” And that it was felt that to raise the flag would open the “floodgates” and could potentially lead to a host of other flags having to be raised for other issues.
This decision has been heavily criticized by several members of Pembroke JCR. Barber commented, “I find the reasons that the authorities gave diametrically opposed to the modern liberal democracy we live in today and unconvincing in the light of the willingness of other colleges to engage in the current endeavour to fly the flags in acknowledgement of LGBTQ history and oppression.”
Visiting student John Lapin agreed, saying that Pembroke presented itself as “an inclusive and caring community that is welcoming to all students” and he was therefore “confused and disappointed to hear of the decision to ignore a nearly-unanimous JCR motion to fly a rainbow flag.” He added, “Choosing not to fly the rainbow flag does not encourage students, faculty, and staff to live honestly and to be open to new perspectives and diverse viewpoints.”
In a positive development, Pembroke chaplain Andrew Teal made the decision to hang a rainbow flag in the college chapel. Teal felt that he wanted to “show solidarity with the LGBTQ community” and so hung the flag, he added, “with the full support of the master”. He also felt that the chapel was an important place to hang the flag “because the Church has often colluded in the oppression of minorities, and that’s something that it needs to own up to”. Lapin described this act as “courageous.”
Pembroke Home Bursar Daren Bowyer responded, “Pembroke is absolutely committed to the principles of equality, welcomes diversity and seeks to provide proper support to all its membership.” He stated that the College’s flag pole “is for the flying of the College flag or the Union flag on certain prescribed dates and College occasions and on those sad occasions of the death of people closely connected with the College.”
He added that any change to that policy would have to be made by the college’s governing body but that Pembroke’s chaplain “has proposed that in relation to LGBT we demonstrate our support and understanding by the placing of a rainbow symbol in the Chapel, together with a note of affirmation.”
Yet Barber felt that “lip service to LGBTQ rights is not enough. Manifest and substantive support is what is required to combat injustice and oppression; without it, the college’s anti-discrimination policies are hollow and meaningless”
St Hugh’s is another college which will not be flying the flag, despite considerable enthusiasm from the JCR and a motion that received almost unanimous support. JCR President Sara Polakova explained that she had participated in “considerable negotiations with college” but that the proposal was ultimately refused. She told Cherwell that the college’s response had been “predominantly the ‘floodgate’ argument, stating that if you allow one flag (which is not the Union flag or the College flag) to be put up, you have to allow all.”
However Polakova added that this was “a completely non-controversial matter” and that she was confident that her college is fully in support of LGBT History month. She stated that the concern centered around the consequences of breaching college flag rules rather than any specific objection to the Rainbow flag.
Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream, elaborated on the ‘floodgate’ argument, commenting, “If they can raise the flag in support of gay rights, what is wrong with Exeter College hosting the Wilberforce Academy [the controversial Christian group]?”.
Corpus Christi JCR also encountered problems with their college’s governing body and were ultimately unsuccessful in their bid, despite the JCR supporting raising the flag. Jim Everett, Corpus ‘Spectrum’ rep described this situation as “unfortunate”, although the JCR in response decided to fly their flag at their boathouse on the Saturday of Torpids, a move that was also carried out by Jesus College.
Christ Church also passed a motion of support but were prevented from flying the flag from the college flagpole, instead deciding to drape it in their JCR. Meanwhile Teddy Hall applied too late to gain permission to fly the flag even from their boathouse and so followed Christ Church’s example. Teddy Hall’s LGBTQ rep, Frances Reed commented that, despite this situation, she “has always found Teddy Hall to be a very supportive environment for LGBTQ students.”
Worcester College passed a motion in support, but did not receive a flag in time. Its Provost, Professor Jonathan Bate, and JCR President Sam Barker explained ‘Worcester has never been a conformist College. We celebrate diversity in all its forms. One of the ways in which we do so is by flying the Rainbow Flag, in honour of the LGBTQ community, on a day of our choice, not one laid down by a diktat from party headquarters. Watch our flagpole: rest assured that the day will come.
Cherwell has received confirmations from over ten colleges that they have successfully gained permission to fly the flag. The JCR President of New College, Oscar Lee, said he was “delighted that college agreed” and that he had been pleasantly surprised by the ease of negotiations.
Jack Watson, JCR President of Regent’s said that he felt flying the flag would reflect the college “showing [their] appreciation for LGBTQ history month, and accepting the deeper values that underlie it.”
Kat Humphries, LGBTQ rep at Mansfield, commented that she was “extremely pleased that the motion passed” and that it had made her “proud, both as the LGBTQ rep but also just as a student at Mansfield”, since the college had been so open to the idea.
Michael Brooks explained that the idea to raise flags had come about last November, stating, “Wadham raised the rainbow flag for the first time in Oxford University’s history during Queerweek and it was received extremely positively, both within Oxford and online.” He added that other students had then in conversation suggested that they didn’t think their college would be as supportive, so he “came up with the initiative to get all colleges involved. LGBT history month seemed the perfect time for it.”
However not all students have been entirely receptive of the idea. One commented, “Colleges shouldn’t be put under pressure to fly the rainbow flag. Their core purpose is in being an educational institution and they are entitled to refrain from political activism, however good the cause.” Another added, “Colleges are traditional institutions and have to protect their image in the eyes of their donors. Not all old members are as liberal as today’s students!”
However Brooks suggested that the initiative had been “extremely successful, even for those colleges that have not agreed to fly the flag.” He commented, “When the rainbow flags are all up on the 29th, this time not just from one college but from over ten, tourists, students, academics and residents will notice them and I am fairly certain it will generate discussion about LGBTQ issues or, at the very least, an awareness of what LGBTQ issues are.”