The UWA Guild have today erected the Pride Flag from the north face of the Guild Building to signal their support for the queer community following the devastating attacks directed against their number in a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Their decision follows the Vice-Chancellor declining to raise the Rainbow Flag at the front of campus, as was requested yesterday by the UWA Pride Department and Pelican Magazine separately.

“The Guild supports a safe campus for all students and staff, and a campus that welcomes individuality and freedom to be yourself,” Guild President Maddie Mulholland said in a direct statement to Pelican. “We stand with the Pride Department and LGBTQI community in solidarity responding to this horrific incident.”

The Guild’s Rainbow Flag will fly until at least the week’s end. After this time, a review will be conducted in consultation with the Pride Department to explore options and procedure for extending that period.

The Guild President informed Pelican she was approached by the Vice-Chancellor yesterday evening to discuss Pelican and the Pride Department’s request.

“The Vice Chancellor confirmed that the University’s position was to consider Australian incidents for flag flying, but that there were also codes the University must comply with as a state institution. He was supportive of the vigil being held on Thursday [an initiative of the UWA Pride Department, taking place at 5:30pm on Oak Lawn]. The Guild in response to this have committed to flying the Pride Flag from the Guild Building in a sign of solidarity.”

Pelican wonders why the logistical argument relating to flag codes was not included in the Vice-Chancellor’s original response to their emailed petition.

Information on flag protocols and precedence can be found on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet government website, and is based on the Commonwealth Flags Act 1953. According to the codes, the Australian National Flag has precedence over all other flags. The full order of precedence as follows:

  1. Australian National Flag
  2. National flags of other nations
  3. State and Territory flags
  4. Other flags prescribed by the Flags Act 1953 (including the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag)
  5. Ensigns and Pennants (including local government, private organisations, sporting clubs and community groups)

In this descending list of categories, the ‘best fit’ for the Pride Flag would seem to be number five. Yet arguably, the Pride Flag is weighted with a greater symbolic power than the ‘community groups’ referred to in the codes.

We would not – as occurred in November last year – consider it acceptable under any circumstance to take down the Aboriginal Flag to raise the Pride Flag, or any other flag besides. Following the incident, the 2015 WASAC President and Guild President raised their concerns with the Vice-Chancellor, which occurred during National Pride Week. The decision was then made to take down the WA State Flag, such that both the Aboriginal and Pride flags were flying.

In other words, the temporary removal of the State Flag has a precedent. It is admittedly a shaky precedent – since as a state institution, UWA is obliged to at all times to fly the State flag.

Given the restrictive flag flying codes set into government policy and guidelines, Pelican hopes in the future to see a fourth flag pole erected at the front of our campus to accommodate the flying of the Pride Flag on a more permanent and flexible basis. The Guild President has given an assurance that efforts are now underway to see this end achieved.

Pelican’s request to fly the Pride Flag was not made on a purely reactionary basis to an isolated if devastating tragedy. The current historical moment is, in our belief, a hugely significant one for the Australian queer community, particularly in the field of Federal Politics. We have seen our Prime Minister kowtow to his party’s right-wing elements and continue with his predecessor’s plans to hold a divisive and unnecessary $160 million plebiscite for same-sex marriage. We also saw him about-turn on the Safe Schools program, such that a valuable life-saving set of resources have not only been curtailed but marked ‘deviant’. We have seen gay asylum seekers sent to indefinite detention in nations in which consensual homosexual sex is a crime, and where violent retribution for homosexual behaviour is widespread.

Pelican put the request to the Vice-Chancellor in full awareness of these matters. We continue to believe that when it comes to the open support of the queer community in their continuing struggle for social equality, UWA has some way to go.

Words by Kate Prendergast

The Pride Department’s UWA Vigil for Orlando will be held at 5:30 on Thursday, June 16 on Oak Lawn. All students and members of the community are welcome to attend.