by Lucy Auger
Victory! The University of East Anglia has at long last agreed to fly the rainbow flag for the first time in the university’s history. After over three years of campaigning by UEA’s lgbt+ activists, university managers finally gave in and flew the rainbow flag ahead of this year’s Norwich Pride. Undoubtedly, this is testament to the efficacy of persistent campaigning and to the dedication of student activists both those currently at the University and those who have since left it behind.
So why has UEA management only now admitted defeat, after the majority of Norwich’s major institutions and so many prestigious universities have been flying the rainbow flag for years?
The apparent relinquishing of power by the university in deciding to fly the flag is a reminder that the establishment only ever concedes when it is profitable to do so. This is a victory that should not be dismissed, but also further evidence that resistance to LGBT+ liberation still runs deep within institutions where big money is on the table. We live in a society where appearing openly hostile to LGBT+ people is simply no longer profitable in the way it used to be. As a result of increasing visibility, the ‘pink economy’ is worth millions, and businesses simply cannot afford to ignore us. For as long as universities remain operating as businesses first and foremost, and places of learning second, we must accept that any seemingly progressive actions they take will never be selfless, and can just as easily be reversed.
We live in a society where appearing openly hostile to LGBT+ people is simply no longer profitable in the way it used to be
Of course, this is not confined to university. Liberation and commercialisation have been attempting to strike a deal since LGBT+ people first gained visibility in capitalist society. Whether it’s universities flying flags for student satisfaction Brownie points, or Starbucks promoting London Pride in an attempt to mask the eyesore of tax-doging with a rainbow filter, businesses only ever relinquish exactly the amount of power necessary to keep themselves in the black and their profits rising. Businesses see us not as a threat, but as a market, and our university is no different.
Corporate interests exist at every level of our fight for LGBT+ liberation. From our clubs to our marches, commercial support comes only with the promise of a hashtag and a sponsorship deal. Pride was born from riots, and if we are truly serious about dismantling heteropatriarchy then we must see these rainbow gestures from businesses and tired institutions for what they are. A rainbow flag flying from an institution that won’t provide funding to support the disproportionate amount of LGBT+ students facing mental health issues, is not solidarity. A #RainbowFilter on the window of a coffee shop that dodges millions in tax is not progressive while we still have a government that supposedly cannot afford to house homeless youth, a quarter of whom are LGBT+. And while the majority of homophobic hate crimes go unreported and LGBT+ people of colour still face police brutality on a regular basis, a pride sticker on a police car in Norwich is not a sign of peace. Pinkwashing, pinkwashing, pinkwashing.
A #RainbowFilter on the window of a coffee shop that dodges millions in tax is not progressive
The hijacking of our movement for financial gain is beginning to show more than ever. Commercialisation of Pride prices out the most marginalised in our community, leaving the more privileged to watch as we cease to protest, and instead become a marching advertisement for Starbucks, Nandos, Barclays, Tesco, and any other company with a few grand to spare.
Ultimately, being at a point where businesses are forced to appropriate our struggle is a huge victory in terms of social attitudes, and we can draw hope from this, but not complacency. From universities pricing LGBT+ students out of higher education, or chains emptying our pockets in gentrified Soho, we must remember that this is not the Pride we want or need.
All we can do is continue to support grassroots organisations like Norwich Pride, so that we can keep Pride free, and stay so radical that one day, hopefully, Pride’s sponsors decide they don’t want our money anyway.