Students are protesting the College’s decision by flying LGBT flags at formalsVarsity

An open meeting was held at Gonville and Caius yesterday (21/2) to which students were invited to give their views on the college’s recent decision to only fly its banner from its flagpole.

All of the students present spoke out against the ruling to three college representatives: Senior Tutor Andrew Spencer, Dean Carolyn Hammond and fellow Arif Ahmed. Spencer said at the end of the meeting that “this is a community that changes its mind”, hinting that the fellows may reconsider their decision.

The panel acknowledged the strength of feeling that the decision has provoked and was keen to reassure attendeees that the fellows’ motives were in no way homophobic. Hammond said that “I think, I hope we do not have a problem with homophobia here”, encouraging students to report any incidents of homophobia to the College.

Ahmed affirmed that the College will uphold its legal obligations to tackle discrimination against minority groups. He acknowledged that whilst the taking down of the flag “can look incongruous” with the College’s commitment to LGBT rights, the College should be judged on “practicalities and policies” and it is not always “sensible” to focus on symbols.

He explained the College’s defence twice, saying that some individuals “might feel uncomfortable” by the College flying the pride flag and that it is “problematic to say it represents everyone”. He also argued that there are “other good causes” for which flags could be flown and the selection of any flag implies a “ranking of preference” that may not be shared by everyone.

Ahmed said that the College flag by definition represents everyone at Caius, a claim disputed by members of the audience. He later conceded that he “sympathises with the view that flying the flag does not have to represent everyone”.

When pressed on the harm caused to LGBT students, Hammond agreed that the decision had led to “massive offence and hurt”, yet she explained the Council had anticipated in their discussions the “pain in the short run” and had adopted a long-term perspective.

The panel faced tough feedback with one student suggesting it was “naive to assume that the fellows are not homophobic”, a comment which was passionately disputed by the representatives present.


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Other students detailed how the decision might impact the College’s reputation. They explained how when choosing what College to apply to they excluded those that did not fly the pride flag. According to a survey conducted by the JCR, 70% of LGBTQ+ individuals said that they would have taken the decision into account. Ahmed conceded that the College Council had not discussed how the decision might influence prospective applicants.

When given the opportunity to outline the steps the College has taken to support LGBT students, Spencer pointed to the introduction of gender neutral toilets and a change to its regulations, which previously banned students from flying flags in their room without tutorial permission.

The representatives encouraged students to take advantage of this liberalisation to protest the College’s decision. Spencer also said he was seeking consultation to introduce an “LGBT+ identifiable tutor” even though he is “conscious that the decision flies in the face of this”.

Hammond urged students to “use academic methods to overturn the College’s argument”. Spencer maintained the College will listen to student feedback, arguing that this is not a “student versus fellowship decision”. He said that all student feedback will be presented to the Council when it next meets, concluding that “this is a community that changes its mind”.

Students have begun protesting the move by regularly flying LGBT flags at formals.

The Caius JCR and MCR have written an open letter demanding a reversal of the flag policy and for the college to fly the progress flag to mark LGBT History month, as it had previously.

Of the 285 respondents to the JCR’s survey 83.1% of people were in favour of flying the progress flag, while 9.4% opposed and 7.6% held no opinion. At the time of writing, the letter has over 200 signatures from students, fellows, staff and alumni of the College.