As my term as the president of Kings University College Students' Council comes to a close, I am reflecting back on the various advocacy efforts that I have been involved in throughout my term and the impact (or lack thereof) it has had on the King’s community.
There is one issue that sticks in my mind above all else, and that is the state of LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion at the college.
As one of Western University's Catholic affiliate colleges, the mission and values of King’s is informed by the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. This connection to the church comes with its many advantages to the spiritual life of the community but it also has, in my view, led King's to be slow to make progress on some social issues. Most notable of these issues is the college’s stance on the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
For most of my time at King’s, the college has been silent on LGBTQIA2S+ issues and this has only just started to change. Their failure to acknowledge the LGBTQIA2S+ community becomes especially noticeable during times such as Pride Month or the Transgender Day of Remembrance when the Western community rallies together in support of our LGBTQIA2S+ peers. Statements of support are issued by Western, Huron University College, Brescia University College and the students' council at King's, but the college has traditionally remained silent.
King's failure to publicly support the LGBTQIA2S+ community has come to a head with their refusal to permit the Pride flag from being flown on campus.
One of the first advocacy points I brought forward when I was elected president of the KUCSC was to formally request that the Pride flag be flown during the time when the London Pride Parade would have occurred (the college has not traditionally permitted the King’s brand be associated with that event either). My request was denied under the justification that a committee had been struck to examine issue and after a year of deliberation, they recommended that the pride flag should not be flowed on campus because further discussion with the community needed to occur.
I must say, having been involved in the advocacy to raise the Pride flag on our campus, I am quite disappointed to see the lack of progress that has been made.
For the past two years, any advocacy about the Pride flag or LGBTQIA2S+ issues have been directed to an advisory committee established on the topic.
This group has met only five times over the course of two years and after initially recommending the Pride flag not be flown, it eventually established a set of recommendations including the raising of the Pride flag and creating a more permanent committee to examine LGBTQIA2S+ issues. However, once these recommendations were made, King's decided to reconstitute the committee with new membership and a new mandate before any further action on the flag could occur.
My concern is that given it took two years to come up with the recommendation that a new committee should be made, the issue will continue to be dragged out and no progress will be made in any reasonable timeline.
In response to the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer, King's moved quickly to enact change and establish a working group that meets regularly. I applaud the college for its swift actions on this important issue, but I believe that this demonstrates that King's can move quickly to address social injustices when it wants to but that this is not the case here.
The college has maintained its position that it wants to focus on real and meaningful progress for the LGBTQIA2S+ community and does not want to engage in any symbolic gestures such as raising the pride flag until those measures have been implemented.
While I respect the need for meaningful progress, I believe that acknowledging and celebrating symbols associated with the LGBTQIA2S+ community and outward signs of support are more than token gestures. They are instead important signs of the commitment the college says it has made to stand with and support its LGBTQIA2S+ students and staff. I have been deeply troubled by the types of comments and level of resistance such suggestions have faced by members of our campus community.
As a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community myself, I have long hoped that I would see the college fly the Pride flag as a sign of acknowledgement and support before I graduated. I am deeply disappointed to see that this will not be possible.
As someone who has been involved in students' council for most of my undergraduate career, each year I have seen the continual advocacy efforts being pushed forward by students' council and even by some members of faculty. The fact that in the four years I have been here I have not seen any outward symbols of support from King's or any meaningful student-facing change is deeply disheartening.
While I support the creation of this new committee to explore LGBTQIA2S+ issues on campus and am encouraged by the steps of progress I have begun to see over the past year or so, the fact that these efforts have faced resistance and that progress on anything symbolic or attached to the school’s brand is pursued at a sluggish pace is of great concern.
This is 2021, we should not still the fighting over whether we can publicly support the LGBTQIA2S+ community. We should not still be fighting over whether the Pride flag is an inappropriate symbol to associate with the King’s brand. King’s needs to do better.
As a note to any LGBTQIA2S+ King’s students reading this and looking for support, a list of resources available to King’s students is available.
This article is part of the annual Pride Issue, read the full issue online now.