Trinity flies rainbow flag to mark LGBT+ History Month

The rainbow flag will fly beside Newton’s apple tree at Great Gate on the first and last Friday of February as part of LGBT+ History Month.

Anna Dimitriadis, TCSU LGBT+ Officer

Students, staff and Fellows welcomed the advent of the rainbow flag at Trinity, which joins Colleges across Cambridge in flying the internationally recognised symbol of the LGBT+ community.

The Senior Tutor, Professor Catherine Barnard, said that flying the flag close to the entrance of the College – which is passed by hundreds of people a day – sent a positive message to prospective students, staff and academics that the College welcomed diversity.

Trinity student, Anna Dimitriadis,  who is LGBT+ Officer of Trinity College Students’ Union, said:

Trinity’s decision to fly the rainbow flag symbolises a direct and necessary validation of its LGBT+ members – students and staff alike. I am especially grateful to the Senior Tutor for all her support, and of course to the students who filled out last term’s LGBT+ Survey, which demonstrated just how important to us the issue was.

Head Porter, Peter Windmill, raising the rainbow flag

Sub-Librarian, Sandy Paul, said:

Having worked at Trinity for almost 24 years, and having gone from being a (youngish) gay man to being an older one, I have always appreciated the tolerant, welcoming and supportive atmosphere in the College. Trinity flying the rainbow flag is confirmation of that.

Since the first appearance of the rainbow flag in San Francisco in 1978 it has symbolised the diversity of the LGBT+ community and the pride felt by its members. LGBT+ History Month promotes equality and diversity by celebrating the achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as raising awareness of matters affecting the community.

Dr Arthur Asseraf, Fellow for LGBT+ matters at Trinity

Dr Arthur Asseraf, Fellow for LGBT+ issues at Trinity, welcomed the flag flying at the College. ‘Trinity has had a long and rich history of LGBT+ members and it is wonderful to see this presence become increasingly visible and celebrated, thanks to the hard work of students and staff,’ he said.

The flag at Trinity follows an exhibition in 2017, 50 years after the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalised homosexuality. ‘…Too strong for words to name’, in the Wren Library, explored the nature of male friendship through the prism of three famous members of Trinity – Francis Bacon, Alfred Lord Tennyson and AE Housman.

The exhibition curators, then Co-Presidents of Trinity’s LGBT+ Society, Mimi Trevelyan-Davis and James Riseley, and former Trinity Fellow, Dr Joe Moshenska, argued that while modern terms such as heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual could not be applied to past eras straightforwardly, denying LGBT+ identities in earlier eras risked marginalising communities and denying their history.

Professor Adrian Poole, co-editor of Trinity Poets, which features works by members of Trinity including Housman, Tennyson, Thom Gunn and Byron, agreed. Feted and reviled in his short lifetime, Lord Byron – a student at Trinity 1805-1808 – led a remarkably adventurous life.

‘After 150 years or more of denial and suspicion since his death in 1824, it was less than 20 years ago that his biographer Fiona MacCarthy was able to describe the full range of his sexual inclinations and practices,’ said Professor Poole. ‘Not that his pursuit of and by women was all a sham. But homosexual acts between men were in Britain a capital offence; no wonder he fled to the Continent in 1816, never to return. The objects of adoration in his poetry may be officially female but they often mask the more transgressive desires in his personal life,’ he said.

As a youth at Trinity, Byron met and fell in love with the chorister, John Edleston, whose early death prompted him to the first of several elegies, ‘To Thyrza’, in which a woman’s name conceals the identity and gender of the lost youth behind it.

These lines about the rainbow in one of his Turkish tales may have been addressed to a fictional character, Zuleika, but said Professor Poole, ‘who is to say who inspired them and to whom readers may apply them?’

Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life! The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,
And tints to-morrow with prophetic ray!

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