My first week as LGBT+ Officer for Trinity was busy, to say the least.
Two weeks ago, a student was asked to remove a postcard-sized rainbow flag from her window. Various explanations were given. One porter claimed the flag was a ‘political symbol’, the public display of which was prohibited; he compared it to putting up a Tory poster during a general election. According to him, ‘There are a lot of people at Trinity with a lot of different opinions, and we don’t want to be putting things in people’s faces.’ The rule in the accommodation handbook is more general, restricting the display of any posters or notices – presumably, political or otherwise – to designated College noticeboards. The exact scope of the policy is currently under investigation by the Senior Tutor.
However – to put it bluntly – that’s not the point. Trinity’s problems don’t emanate from its rules on students’ windows. If College wants its windows bare, then so be it. The flag incident only serves to highlight a more general problem: queer visibility at Trinity is currently non-existent.
This year, Trinity was one of just seven colleges not to raise the pride flag on its main flagpole during LGBT+ History Month, and one of two to not display it publicly at all. The reasoning behind the decision was that students should be united under the college flag rather than sectioned off into identity groups. Also, if pride gets a flag, then every other society will start demanding one – right?
The argument is unconvincing at best, not least because LGBT+ people aren’t part of a ‘society’. The rainbow celebrates both diversity and unity, as well as recognising the historical and ongoing oppression faced by the LGBT+ community. Even if it is to be construed as a purely political symbol – although this perception is problematic in itself, contributing to the politicisation of queer people for simply existing – surely the promotion of such a universal cause is an agenda Trinity should want to get behind?
The lack of queer visibility is clear at a time when so many other colleges are embracing and encouraging it. It’s not just about abstractly supporting a movement; it directly affects the welfare of LGBT+ students, especially those who don’t come from queer-friendly homes. University should be a space where everyone feels safe and comfortable being out, and the active validation of queer identity from the institution itself is crucial to that experience.
While Cambridge does have an active LGBT+ scene, students shouldn’t have to rely on out-of-college provisions to interact with it. Not everyone enjoys clubbing, and queer club nights can feel quite exclusive, being primarily targeted at cis gay men. More importantly, College is where we live and always go back to, and an accessible support network should exist internally as well – particularly at Trinity, whose sheer size sometimes means it can be quite insular and isolated from the rest of the University.
Varsity’s article brought home the emotional impact a lack of visibility can have, as well as reinforcing just how traditionalist Trinity is still perceived to be – despite its insistence to the contrary. If College wants to change its reputation and live up to its aim of championing diversity, then it’s high time for some active acknowledgement of its LGBT+ members. Queer visibility is, above all, a welfare issue, and so-called ‘political neutrality’ is just not good enough.
Anna Dimitriadis is the current LGBT+ Officer for the Trinity College Students’ Union