June marks the commencement of Pride Month nationwide, and with the 30th Annual Boise Pridefest hitting close to home, Boise State took the opportunity to get involved. Displaying pride flags and colored lights both in and out of the Student Union Building (SUB), the University sought to take part in the month’s celebration of those in the LGBTQIA+ community.
“These displays were intended to reflect the university’s earnest commitment to diversity and inclusivity,” said George Thoma, university communications specialist. “While this kind of display of the pride flag might be interpreted as nothing more than symbolic, even its symbolic display has meaning and molds a consciousness that helps us to practice inclusivity and begin to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse world.”
The university’s display of the flag in its original state, however, was criticized rather than celebrated.
Bibiana Ortiz, third-year sociology, ethnic studies and media arts major, posted photos of two flags displayed on the brick walls of the SUB on Instagram. At the time the photos were taken, the stripes on the flag representing people of color in the community were incorrectly placed at the bottom. According to Ortiz, the stripes are meant to be seen at the top of the pride flag, intended to embrace LGBTQIA+ people of color.
“I know that for those students coming in, that initial moment entering, you remember. I remember entering for orientation and just seeing everything,” Ortiz said. “So, it’s amazing that the SUB has these pride flags, but there are incoming freshmen who are coming to campus and seeing that upside down. And there are potentially queer individuals seeing that, queer students of color and then queer trans students of color. And I’m like, no. That needs to be changed, like right now.”
Although the change was made to rotate the flag mid-morning on Monday, June 10, many first-year students had already registered for orientation across the street from the SUB, walking past the flags on their way into the building.
According to Ortiz, the original display led them to question the university’s intentions for putting up the flags in the first place. Ortiz referenced a piece written by Arthur Scarritt, a Boise State sociology professor, on consumerist diversity, and described their concern that the university could promote diversity and inclusion for its institutional brand.
“I want to be part of the process. And I’m just curious as to, like, how? What do you do? Please include me in that conversation,” Ortiz said. “People are like, ‘We’re trying to change.’ What is your purpose of making change? Because I understand my purpose. My purpose is for myself, but (also) for the students to come. And my concern is that some individuals may want that change just for the face of Boise State instead of addressing the impact of having the flag upside down and how Boise State doesn’t support its queer, trans students of color.”
Ortiz’s sentiment for change is one that has been echoed by students and faculty alike, and Francisco Salinas, director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, described the importance of the department in conversations regarding equity across the university via the training of student groups and contribution to curricular conversations.
While discourse regarding diversity and inclusion has been happening more frequently campus-wide, Salinas believes that there are more actionable changes to be made in the near future.
“I think that we are in a developmental stage at Boise State University where systemic changes are the next natural step,” Salinas said. “Systemic changes mean resource allocation and redesign. People in positional authority all around campus need to reconcile the needs of a more diverse population at all levels, including queer students and others.”
Although the damage has been done for those affected, according to Ortiz, the university has the potential to avoid recurring incidents in the coming years. Rather than the traditional pride flag, Ortiz suggests replacing future displays with the Progress Flag, an updated and lesser-known version with a focus on racial diversity and inclusion.
“It’s like the original pride flag with the six colors, right? And then it has a triangle, essentially of the black and brown for the black and brown folx, specifically Black & Indigenous folx and, additionally, the blue, pink & white for trans folx too,” Ortiz said. “Daniel Quasar created it, and It’s supposed to represent the ways in which we have to address, support, and uplift black and brown trans folks. And so the arrows show the progress that is needed within the queer community.”
While Boise State has not commented on using the updated pride flag in the future, it continues to hold the stance that the university will support and be inclusive of all members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the future.
“(Boise State is) glad to have critical and diverse perspectives which help shape the future of campus,” Thoma said. “We continue to do the hard but necessary work of learning to do better as we go. These concerns are being taken seriously and are part of the consciousness that will help to refine future displays and events on campus.”
This “hard but necessary work” may not have a strict timeline but, according to Ro Parker of Multicultural Student Services, a reflective period may benefit the upcoming displays and their meanings for groups across campus.
“Symbols from historically marginalized communities have meaning that may not be realized by those not a part of that community,” Parker said. “And it is always important to include folks from the community it impacts to have an opportunity to be involved in the discussion or give feedback of the end result. This incident should be a reminder to us that in our move to be more inclusive, we must reflect inclusion in the process itself.”