OPINION: ‘When Someone Takes Down A Pride Flag, We Put Up More’

Mary McLoughlin
Opinion Editor

On Sept. 14, Chloé Massie-Costales, president of Spectrum⁠—UD’s student organization for LGBTQ+ studentssent the following email to club members:

Monday afternoon, Spectrum’s South Ally House residents noticed that a sheet sign reading “Welcome to Spectrum” and one of the pride flags that had been up on the porch had been torn down and were found in the trash. Additionally, one of the plants kept on the porch was missing with another broken. The sheet sign and pride flag were placed back up and we added more pride flags to the house. An Equity Compliance report has been made as well as a report from Public Safety. The residents in both Spectrum Ally houses are all alright. The University and Spectrum are taking reactionary steps in addressing this incident. The University of Dayton has established protocols for responding to all incidents of bias, which are currently being utilized.  

While these types of situations are not common for us as an organization, Spectrum would like to make some points clear. 

Biased and hateful actions such as this will not be tolerated by the University nor by Spectrum. LGBTQ+ individuals have the right to feel safe, supported, and represented on this campus. 

Spectrum will continue to host LGBTQ+ events on campus promoting awareness and visibility.  

Spectrum will continue to advocate for the dignity of all LGBTQ+ individuals.

Both the North and the South Ally houses will continue to offer support, comfort, and safety for LGBTQ+ students and work as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students.

LGBTQ+ students have a place in this community. We deserve the same rights, human dignity, and respect as anyone else. 

When someone takes down a pride flag, we put up more. 

When intolerance happens, we come together. 

In an email to the campus, President Eric Spina characterized the crime as “bias-related vandalism” and condemned the act as one “incompatible with our Catholic, Marianist values and our commitment to create an environment where all feel safe, supported, valued and respected.”

In light of the incident, Massie-Costales reflects on the work she’s done with Spectrum:

Mainly I want to say that things have in fact gotten a lot better for LGBTQ+ students during my time here at UD. I’ve seen a lot of growth. I remember my freshman year feeling incredibly isolated and alone and like the only people I felt really had my back and supported me was Spectrum. Spectrum used to keep our meeting locations private because they were afraid of retaliation or someone barging in and lashing out.

I remember speaking with an alumni a few years back who said that back when they did National Coming Out Day⁠—an event that we still do every year in October⁠—they had to have Public Safety escort them. I remember her telling me that she kept a small switchblade in her pocket and how scared she felt when there were some guys yelling at them and harassing them in the Student Neighborhood.

Now, National Coming Out Day is a BBQ. We have blankets and food and play music. It is so surreal to imagine her experience in contrast to our own current positive experience.Things have changed so much since then, and it is almost impossible to imagine that now. But we still face challenges. Almost every year since I’ve been here we have had a flag “disappear.” No one has ever made an issue out of it because we can’t prove it was stolen, or it just flew away in the wind. But having someone come up to your house, tear down our welcome sign, tear down a flag, break stuff on the porch and throw our flag in the trash? That hurt. 

Spectrum’s first event of the year was making that sheet sign with our members. People worked really hard on it. Folks put hearts and flowers on it with their own sexuality or gender identities colors. It was personal to the group. I was mad. I was angry. I was scared. But we shouldn’t be afraid in our own safe house. Both the North and the South Spectrum Ally houses are going to continue doing what we do. We are going to continue coming together. The university has been incredibly supportive of us, and we will continue supporting one another. Both the North  and South Spectrum Ally houses will continue to be a safe place for LGBTQ+ students.

There’s been a lot of controversy in the news about “safe spaces” on college campuses. When a 2017 survey by the Brookings Institute found that most college students want their colleges to be “safe spaces,” some conservative voices were quick to dismiss millennials as liberal snowflakes afraid of being offended. I’ve heard over and over again that the emphasis on “safe spaces” places millenials in a reality out of touch with a “real world” that doesn’t care about coddling sensitive souls.

But I am not out of touch with reality. I understand that the reality of the world means there are no places that are truly safe. And when looking at FBI crime data, which shows that hate crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals have risen each year from 2014 to 2017, I know that the places where I feel safe enough to be open about my sexuality are not representative of the “real world.” 

See also- Letter To The Editor: Alumni Applaud University Reaction To Bias Incident At LGBTQ+ House

But as a queer-identifying snowflake on a Catholic campus, I am not worried about one day melting under the glare of the real world. Most of my life has prepared me for dealing with more than just being “offended.” When dating a girl on this campus, I have learned to carry my phone in one hand and my water bottle in the other so I would not have to tell her that I was afraid to hold her hand. In moments when I felt brave enough to show affection, the things strangers have shouted in the Student Neighborhood hardened those instances of tenderness into ones of protests. 

It is precisely because I understand that the world will never be a “safe space” for me that I need some spaces that can be.

When so much of LGBTQ+ identies and experiences are politicized, safe spaces create a place where being queer can just be a practice in being human rather than an act of protest.

By placing a rainbow flag outside of their home, the Spectrum Ally house carved out a space that LGBTQ+ individuals could come home to. In this context, safety is not the absence of prejudice, but the choice to be human in spite of it. 

And in stealing that flag, perpetrators of that crime tried to take away that level of humanity. According to the Dayton Daily News, the vandalism on campus follows a series of incidents in Oakwood this July where rainbow flags were stolen from houses and porches. The American Psychological Association explains that hate crimes serve the psychological function of causing emotional distress by making a person or community feel unsafe and unwelcome in a space. The Department of Justice reports that the most common site for hate crimes is at or near the victim’s home because these are locations where individuals are most likely to expect safety.

Taking down Spectrum’s flag was an attempt to send a message to members of the LGBTQ+ community that there was no place left for them to feel human, no place left for them to return home to, no place left to be safe. In her essay “Homeplace,” feminist theorist bell hooks argues that public spaces are built around political structures meant to dehumanize and marginalize, but the privacy of homes and safe-spaces offer reprieve. She writes that, “those who dominate and oppress us benefit most when…they have so taken from us our dignity, our humanness that we have nothing left, no ‘homeplace’ where we can recover ourselves.” 

Taking down our flags will not take away our safety or our humanity because our safe spaces are not limited to houses or buildings. I have found places to come home to again and again within this community among friends, classmates, faculty and staff who have made room for me as I am and have loved me where I was. 

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The cover of this paper, like Spectrum’s flag, is more than just a rainbow⁠—it is a commitment to the same sense of community that makes Spectrum and other parts of campus a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized identities. As this paper is distributed and its rainbow makes it way across campus, we join Chloé in her commitment: “When someone takes down a pride flag, we put up more. When intolerance happens, we come together.”