How Cambridge celebrated International Trans Day of Remembrance

Spoiler alert – it wasn’t all good

CN: discussion of trans issues and removal of trans flags

International Transgender Day of Remembrance was observed this past Saturday to mark the end of Transgender Awareness Week. Several colleges – from Queens’ to Murray Edwards – hoisted the trans flag.

It warms my heart to say there’s been progress at Cambridge. But there’s so much hate that I felt a need to remind you of that love was shown too, which is why this article is peppered with individual colleges’ gestures expressing support for the transgender community.

Some colleges took a more roundabout route to support the trans community – but did so nonetheless.

Jesus College honoured the memory of transgender people by raising the ‘Progress’ variation of the Pride flag. It also held a choral evensong to commemorate the lives of those who were tragically murdered as a result of transphobia.

But progress is not uniform. Quite a few did not fly the trans flag or commemorate Transgender Awareness Week. The LGBTQ+ officers of Trinity Hall have been pushing the college to fly the trans flag for over two years – despite its constant refusal to. The good news is that Trinity Hall will soon be holding an upcoming consultation with the flag flying committee.

A spokesperson for Trinity Hall said that “the College is fully supportive of its students in recognising Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. During the week we spoke to transgender members of our community and promoted awareness through our College community pages, internal communications and social media.”

Tit Hall’s LGBTQ+ officers have also set up their own campaign to help the trans community. They sold trans flags and donated the proceeds they raised to Mermaids, a UK charity supporting transgender youth.

Other colleges – like Clare College – did things differently, taking down trans flags hoisted by students.

What does taking a flag down really mean, though?

Well, quite a few countries believe their national flag’s symbolic importance is enough to warrant legislation on how it should and shouldn’t be handled. Brunei, France, Saudi Arabia, India, the UK, the US, and Uruguay also outline “flag protocol” – which can be thought of as guidelines for how individuals should behave when the flag is flown. Sidestepping the argument about whether or not such legislation should exist, the fact is that national flags are taken very seriously.

Sure, some of you may believe that a national flag holds more importance than the trans flag – or any other flags, for that matter.

But isn’t the purpose of a national flag to unite a country’s citizens under one banner in which they each take pride? How is that any different to the purpose of the trans flag, which intends to unite the transgender community & its allies to take pride in their individuality? Why should we treat the trans flag any differently from a national flag if they both serve the same purpose to the people they are meant to represent?

Clare was the last college to fly the Pride flag for LGBTQ+ History Month (February) in 2019. Two students ended up raising the flag without permission from the college – and it was only then that the college acquiesced. A tiny, tiny ray of hope for Clare emerges from the fact that flying the Pride flag from the start to the end of LGBTQ+ History Month is now the college’s policy.

What remains to be seen, however, is why the college refused to fly the trans flag. Considering the Pride flag continued to be flown, it seems to me as if the college is expressing support for sexual minorities excluding the transgender community. That teensy-tiny ray of hope suddenly isn’t shining so brightly anymore.

“A refusal to fly the trans flag in respect to those we lost reflects a troubling disregard for trans lives and the wellbeing of trans students.”

– an anonymous trans student at Cambridge

Sidney Sussex College. Image credits: Vedika Mandapati

I crossed Sidney Sussex College on my way to Mainsbury’s last Saturday. Hanging from one of its balconies over Sidney St was a large trans flag rippling in the wind. It was probably put up by one particularly lovely student – but it was the only trans flag I saw this year in person.

Yes, there has been progress. Evidence of that exists in the fact that I’m writing an article about the transgender community at Cambridge. But there hasn’t been enough. The Clare incident is contemporary proof that Cambridge still has a long way to go in making its transgender community feel secure and welcomed.

The University of Cambridge, Clare College and Sidney Sussex College were contacted for comment.

Feature image credits: author’s own

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