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On Burned Flags and Harsh Thoughts: A Queer UBC Student’s Perspective

When I first heard that someone burned the pride flag, my first thought was that it sure sounded like a lot of effort. I imagined a masked man scaling a pole, lighter in hand, and wondered: how does one go about burning a flag? Had they been amused with themselves at the time, or grim-faced and serious with their hate? An inordinate amount of discussion on the topic boiled down to “burning flags is wrong, but…” followed with some criticism or other of the queer community.

I’m so tired.

I didn’t know OUTWeek by The Pride Collective at UBC was even happening until an editor from Her Campus asked if anyone was willing to cover the events. And me thinking, hey, I have the social skills of a startled turtle but I’m here and queer so why not – I decided to make it happen.

There’s something powerful and intimate that exists in queer spaces. I found myself standing in limbo, an intersection of being surrounded by utter strangers who also shared something vital with me. We were in some ways on more familiar terms than with people we’d known for years. When we make ourselves vulnerable, it is the tentative effort that follows years of fear, anxiety or heartbreak, hinging on the promised safety of a space. The world outside has its own default, where it has branded cisheterosexuality as the standard we cannot meet. Inside our own company we can strive to have no default and be defined by our diversity.

Made by me at the Family Day Potluck. Remember kids: Don’t cry, craft!

I suppose it’s true you’d likely have a hard time finding a queer person who doesn’t at least find amusement in lighthearted jokes about cishet people. I think it’s just something that oppressed minorities do on occasion to cope with and compensate for a lack of rights, familial and community support, or unburned flags. We tend to get hit with the “two wrongs don’t make a right” speech fairly often because yes, we have been oppressed on many institutionalized and personal levels, but it seems women aren’t allowed to distrust men, people of color shouldn’t be uncomfortable around whites, and if queer folk joke about cishets it’s on par with hate speech.

Not All Men; All Lives Matter. So sit down and be quiet.

It seems the privileged can afford to cry “double standard” and forget that history matters, that the power dynamics in our society matter. To get basic respect we must round our edges and make ourselves palatable for your benefit, avoid inconveniencing you at all costs. Fighting tooth and nail for our human rights is just a persuasive tactic until you magnanimously give it to us one piece at a time, apparently.

I’d already spent a weekend with the Pride Collective when news of the flag burning reached me, that the Fuck the Cis-tem March was canceled due to safety concerns. This was unfortunate not only because was the march a glorious pun, but cancellation invited an outpouring of criticism from within the queer community and without. Many saw it as an act of surrender. A small organization of mostly undergrad students that few previously knew existed was now under the gaze of media and the greater community. People were crawling out of the woodwork with opinions, regardless of whether they had ever planned on attending the march originally. The line between well-meaning advice and talking over the emotional and safety needs of a threatened group became blurred.

As an asexual designated female at birth, I am at an increased risk of corrective rape from people who feel a simultaneous need to “fix” me, as well as put me in my place for barring all potential access to my body. Someone following and attacking me after the march was a real possibility, and one not without precedent. I would still have attended if it hadn’t been cancelled, but I appreciate that the Pride Collective recognized their responsibility to people like me who trust them to provide a safe space, and acted with our best interests at heart. I’m also incredibly grateful for the AMS’ response, and for the many whose support didn’t come with any “but”s or “except”s attached.

At the time of my writing, it’s been reported that the perpetrator of the flag burning has likely been identified. I don’t know if this information will be released to us, or when, or if the public will see it as a victory and wipe their hands of it in short order. Based on my own feelings and what I’ve observed in some of my queer companions, I don’t know what justice we’ll feel. This case goes beyond a single burned flag: it stretches into the past and sprawls into our future, and for us can never be closed so easily. At times it seems like the world has made us numb to the point that we can only shrug and sigh in the face of a hateful act. We continue the best we can, we raise a new flag.

Not surprised. Not unaffected. Hopeful but so very, very tired.

Lover of horror films and chubby cats, Sarah is an American third-year English and Psychology student at UBC. When not writing, her pastimes include reading, knitting, selling her soul to Nintendo and ghosting Masters Psychology classes.
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