School’s back in session, and so is the ongoing destruction of a Pride display at an Abbotsford university campus.
Those behind the display, which has been the target of vandalism almost since it was created in March this year, are calling it an act of hate that must be called out. The display has consisted of Pride flags and student-made banners, lining a walkway at the University of the Fraser Valley.
This week, the display has been hit multiple times by vandals, with the entire collection of flags either totally destroyed or stolen. At least one flag was found with what seemed to be spit on it.
But the group behind the display say they will just replace them. Again.
And that’s what they did on Thursday afternoon, when a new delivery of flags arrived.
Dr. Martha Dow, director of UFV’s Community Health and Social Innovation (CHASI) Hub, says the students involved are frustrated, even saddened, but insist on staying strong and replacing the display. This week marked the 10th and 11th incidences of vandalism — some even caught on security cameras. While there was a break through the summer, it’s started right back up again.
It all began this March. Students and staff at CHASI wanted to show support for a student production of Laramie Project, a play about the 1998 murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard.
When UFV declined their request to fly a Pride flag during the play’s run, the group decided to order their own smaller flags and place them along a walkway between the campus’s Buildings B and D. That took place on March 23. Just a few weeks later, janitorial staff found some of the flags in the garbage and the flags were “replanted” in the grounds later that day.
But just 10 days later, someone had stolen all of the flags.
New flags were ordered immediately, and replanted in the grounds within three days, including a new area with security cameras.
Three pride banners were stolen last night. We found one in the parking lot, spat on and covered in dirt.— CHASI HUB (@UFVChasiHub) September 12, 2023
This is the 10th act of vandalism against this display and targeting the queer community.
The next time the display was destroyed was May 5, and the act was caught on camera. Three days later, even more flags were destroyed. Once again, the group replaced their flags.
Dow said they asked UFV administration to make a statement on May 16 about the incident, but the request was denied due to there being an open investigation.
Then, just two days later, more destruction was to befall the display. This time, it was during an appearance by Jordan Peterson at the adjacent Abbotsford Events Centre. Flags in front of Building C were destroyed, and that was again caught on camera. Larger Pride banners hanging opposite the centre were also spit on, and some were taken.
Then on June 12, the CHASI team arrived to find several flags destroyed. Mid-morning, about a dozen of them were destroyed.
Now that school is back in session, so is the vandalism. One of the biggest insults was the theft of a handmade banner that a student had created, featuring a rainbow and the words: Pride Won’t Hide. A flag covered in spit was found in a parking lot.
The group is awaiting approval for a more permanent display, which they say is clearly needed as some “don’t understand the significance of the flag.”
It’s had a negative effect on students in the queer community, Dow said.
“Some students have expressed a feeling of not feeling safe on campus,” she explained.
There seems to be a growing “permission” to hold bigoted views against LGBTQ people, Dow added. It’s something she witnessed growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, with things like book banning taking place. And despite the advances made on issues like gay marriage and adoption, there seems to be a resurgence in intolerance.
Dow sees an opportunity for the school to show allyship with the queer community, especially those on campus. The Pride club does not currently have a dedicated meeting space, something that is afforded to some other student groups.
“As universities, we have to be so bold and so clear,” she said.
New banners and flags arrived Thursday to re-create the display. But she added that the team at CHASI has been carrying the load for the community, and it’s important for allies to step in and help.
“These actions on our campus must be confronted as the hate that they are,” Dow said. “This bigotry thrives in spaces where it isn’t challenged, and it is our collective responsibility to stand against it in every space we inhabit.”
She says it’s time allies and the community rise up and speak out against hate, and also show support.
“We have people spitting on and stomping on flags at a university,” she said. “We can have events where we show solidarity, but it’s time for activism.”
UFV has a webpage dedicated to supporting LGBTQI+ people, at ufv.ca/pride.
On that page, the university states: “Everyone has a right to study in a safe, respectful, and comfortable environment at UFV. One way we can all make a difference and ensure a positive study and workplace is to be allies of the LGBTQI+ community. This means being an active bystander towards harassment or discrimination, reporting incidents of misconduct, and being respectful of others’ views and opinions.”