The UEA administration have responded to calls from student LGBT+ campaigners to fly the pride flag over the Registry Building. The issue was initially raised with the Vice-Chancellor at a Union Council meeting on 16th April and has been an ongoing concern since. The request was made in order to celebrate Norwich Pride on 25th July as well as next year’s LGBT History Month. The university issued a refusal to this request, which prompted criticism from the students’ union LGBT+ Officer and the UEA Pride.
Theo Antoniou-Phillips, the union’s LGBT+ Officer, commented that: “The university refusing to fly the rainbow flag is a clear example of how [the university] are all talk and no action when it comes to the rights of marginalised students. Despite very clear arguments being put forward to them, as well as the voices of literally a thousand students in the past, the university is ignoring the simplest of wishes from LGBT+ students”. He added that: “To those who consider this a non-issue, I ask when they think the university’s inaction will end. A refusal of a flag today is delaying tactics being used to stall the proper implementation of gender-neutral facilities tomorrow. UEA have a long way to go to make their campus as LGBT+ friendly as possible, and they should start by doing this easy but symbolic gesture”.
In an email to the university, Antoniou-Phillips described the flag policy as “offensive”, explaining that “being LGBT+ is not equivalent to being a member of club or society”. The university’s refusal was based on the principle that it does not fly flags other than the official UEA flag – or, for example, a flag to mark a royal visit. The university says that, were it to fly the pride flag, it would have to agree to many similar requests, the number of which it would be unable to “accommodate”.
Elliot Folan, one of UEA Pride’s welfare representatives, said: “For UEA to refuse such a basic request will be a disappointment to LGBT+ students across campus, and it doesn’t inspire confidence that they will take action on the many LGBT+ issues that urgently need to be addressed”. Folan suggested that: “On issues like recognition of non-binary genders, mental health support and gender neutral toilets, UEA remains far behind where it needs to be and it needs to take action. Flying the pride flag would be a good start, and it would at least show publicly that UEA supports our sexualities and genders and opposes homophobia, bi-phobia, transphobia and all other anti-LGBT+ bigotry”.
A university spokeperson said: “The university is fully committed to the principles of equality and diversity on campus and we take our moral and legal obligations in this area extremely seriously – always aiming for best practice rather than simply compliance”. They stated that the university has “established a dedicated Equality and Diversity Office and are proud of the increasing diversity of our campus, working hard with staff, students and local organisations to make UEA an inclusive and welcoming place to study and to work”.
[su_spoiler title=”Comment, by Elliot Folan” style=”Default” icon=”plus-circle” anchor=”Comment”]Over the past few weeks, LGBT+ campaigners at UEA have been pushing for a very reasonable request: for UEA to fly the pride flag over the Registry this weekend to mark Norwich Pride, and next year to mark LGBT+ History Month. The request is simple, and the response from UEA’s administration has been simple as well: no.
After the students’ union LGBT+ Officer questioned them on why this was, UEA responded by saying their policy is that they “will not fly flags other than the university one” and that UEA does not “put up flags for clubs and societies”. However, they did confirm that they will remove the university flag on the rare occasion of a royal visit – which is nice to know, as it shows that UEA will happily celebrate a visit from an unelected monarch, but has banned itself from celebrating the rights and existence of LGBT+ people. Such a response from UEA is simply insulting to the many LGBT+ people on campus. We’re not a “club or society”; we are a diverse community which includes thousands of students, who are marginalised and oppressed for our sexualities, genders and identities. UEA still has problems with homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and erasure of other sexualities and genders, not only by other students and staff but by the university apparatus itself, which still declines to acknowledge the existence of non-binary trans students and leaves them forced to misgender themselves on official records.
Refusing to mark a day of celebration and solidarity for our identities is downright insulting in this context, especially when UEA’s “policy” of only flying the university flag allows for an exception for royal visits. Of course, some might argue that it’s just a flag, and it’s not something worth campaigning about, but I would disagree. Not only does flying the pride flag symbolise UEA’s support for LGBT+ people, but for UEA to refuse such a basic request – to mark and celebrate our existences in a public fashion – doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that it will agree to more significant demands like better mental health support, recognition of non-binary students or gender-neutral toilets. We should not compromise on something important just because there are other things that are more important. If we did that with everything, we’d never get anything done. UEA needs to stop treating LGBT+ people like a “club” and accept us for the marginalised communities that we are. It needs to celebrate our identities with its actions and not just with its words; it needs to end the ban on flying the pride flag.[/su_spoiler]