Since Oct. 1, I have looked at our campus’s flagpole each day. Some days the flag has flown half-mast, other days it has been changed out, but Rollins has failed to fly a LGBTQ pride flag in honor of National LGBT History Month. As October draws to a close, it has become apparent that the cessation of this flag-flying tradition means much more than a flag on a pole.
The predominant excuse has been that the flag itself, or the pole, is broken. (As if National LGBT History Month has not occurred every October since 1994—plan ahead people!) To these excuses, I say buy a new flag! String it up with shoestring and duct tape! The earliest flags of this nation were held together with nothing but scrap cloth and the weakest of thread. And yet, their symbol endures.
Is it really so deep that a simple piece of cloth adorns the flagpole of our campus for 31 days? Yes. The symbol of our flag absent from campus endures in the mind of every queer student who looks for validation during this time of brutal, material prejudice against queer Floridians. Dubious excuses are unforgivable in the face of what is at stake here—I refuse to accept that some broken string should stand in the way of my humanity.
Even after our Student Government Association passed legislation (Oct. 18, 2023) demanding the flag’s installation, our flagpole remains bare. The damage can never be undone; we can never return to Oct. 1 and restring the flag up on the pole. Instead, queer students at Rollins will have to live with the prevailing dread of what it means to be themselves in the state of Florida. Moreover, they will have to suffer the knowledge that their choice of college—a choice which they likely agonized over for months—did worse than nothing. It did not support them when it mattered most.
In the grand scheme of things, a flag is a mere piece of cloth. But the gesture our school has made by refusing to display it symbolizes a return back to the closet—a dark hell to which I promised myself long ago I would never return. This is what is at stake by refusing to display this flag. By displaying nothing, the school and its leaders have stated clearly how visible they would like queer students to be: completely invisible.
In 2022, when the Florida state legislature passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, queer activists like me begged our straight “allies” to see this moment for what it was: the first step of a long-term strategy to attack the rights of myself and my people. What these so-called “allies” called meaningless demagoguery quickly was expanded in the next session of the legislature. What was once a bill which only applied to those nine years old and younger now encompasses the entirety of the Florida K-12 public school system. Already, teachers in the state of Florida (already enduring a painful drought of educators) have lost their jobs due to discussing their identities in public school classrooms.
It does not stop with academic freedom. This past week, the Florida Board of Education issued a rule which restricts bathroom usage of trans people will be expanded to private institutions like Rollins. Once again, we are begging that you recognize this moment for what it is. The assault on my people, and our community will not stop at bathrooms. The machinery of oppression is in the hands of a legislature which will only stop when the people make their voices heard. The first step in that defeat is to be vocal, to be visible. That is why flying the flag matters.
Do not assume for a moment we in Winter Park are shielded from the violent prejudice which sweeps our state. Even locally, the Winter Park City Commission banned pride flags which once adorned the light posts of Park Avenue after a complaint by reactionary candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, Bonnie Jackson. Though Jackson lost the election to Representative Anna V. Eskamani, no rainbow flags will fly over Winter Park this year. How disturbing, then, that no rainbow flag flies over Rollins.
I, for one, am willing to call the absence of our flag what it is: cowardice, a symbol of the deep, dark, ever-flinching cowardice, which pervades this institution. In the face of an ideology which advocates the erasure of queer people (and some of whose proponents currently fund for our endowment) our leaders have chosen submission to bigotry instead of allyship with some of the marginalized identities which compose the Rollins community.
If we are to be a beacon of light in the darkness—if we are to embody our motto, “fiat lux”—then why do we hide? Now is not the time to bury our flags in closets, it is the time to fly them.
UPDATE: As of Oct. 24, the pride flag has been added to the flag pole.
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