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NY college debates whether to display rainbow flag alongside national banners

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
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LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y. — A debate over display of the rainbow “pride” flag has broken out at a Long Island City college.

Staff and LGBT students at CUNY LaGuardia Community College claim that displaying the pride flag in the school’s “Hall Of Flags” would demonstrate support for the college’s LGBT community, but opponents say the flag represents “a lifestyle,” not a nation, and has no place hanging alongside flags from more than 100 countries.

Hall of Flags at LaGuardia Community College.

The flags of the world were a gift from the United Nations “to celebrate LaGuardia’s diversity,” according to the school’s website.

“It’s our hall, it’s our flags,” education professor Richard Henry told The New York Daily News. “Why quibble over whether it’s a nation?” He said adding, “If it’s going to help our students, why not fly it?”

Henry pushed for displaying the flag earlier this month after colleagues posted notices on their office doors declaring their offices as safe zones for LGBT students.

“I don’t have nothing against gay pride,” said student Dennis Lilley, 22, of Brooklyn. “But those are national flags and I don’t believe homosexuality is a nation.”

But flying the rainbow flag “is about more than symbolism,” said Jess McDonald, a spokeswoman for Charlotte, N.C.-based Campus Pride.

McDonald said LGBT students report higher rates of harassment and discrimination compared to their heterosexual peers. In fact, almost a quarter of LGBT college staff and students reported being harassed, according to a 2010 report issued by the group. More than 43 percent reported fearing for their physical safety.

“Simple things like rainbow flags can be powerful,” McDonald said. “It really makes it feel like a safer space.”

Currently, the rainbow flag is on display in a glass showcase on a side wall.

A spokesperson for the college said a decision on whether to fly the flag rests with “a committee comprised of faculty, staff and students,” and will be decided at the beginning of the school year.

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