Rainbow stickers have been twice ripped down at an Australian university, amid debate over whether the LGBT pride flag should be welcome on a Catholic campus.
Two small rainbow flag stickers were first put up on the Notre Dame Student Association (NDSA) office and boardroom windows at the Catholic university’s Fremantle campus earlier this year.
“We took it upon ourselves to do stuff for our LGBTIQ students, because there was nothing,” president Dylan Gojak told BuzzFeed News. “One of the first steps was putting up these ally stickers.”
At the end of February, the stickers were ripped down. The NDSA put them back up. Last Wednesday, they were ripped down a second time.
Neither the NDSA nor the university knows who the culprit is.
But the vandalism has placed the stickers in the spotlight – and prompted complaints to university management arguing the “divisive” rainbow flag has no place on campus.
BuzzFeed News understands Gojak was initially asked by a senior staff member to take down the stickers after complaints were first made.
Gojak and the NDSA pushed back against management, and eventually reached a compromise: Gojak would post an explanation for the stickers on the Student Association Facebook page.
Following the stickers being torn down a second time last week, vice chancellor Celia Hammond wrote an email to Gojak saying that the university does not endorse the rainbow flag but also disapproves of the way the NDSA stickers were torn down.
“While I believe the symbol is divisive, and the University does not support all that has come to be associated with the Rainbow flag, the University does not condone the sticker being deliberately taken down in the way that it was,” she wrote in the email, a copy of which was supplied by the university to BuzzFeed News.
“This only aggravates the situation and has the potential to cause additional distress.”
Hammond wrote that she did not want to cause further distress to either side of the argument: those who think the flag represents a “divisive, political agenda” or those who see it as “a symbol of inclusion and welcome”.
“To that end, while the University does not endorse the Rainbow flag, and does not approve it being displayed on any other parts of the University campus, the University is not seeking for it to be removed from the two windows of the Student Association Office at this time,” she wrote.
The rainbow flag sticker is also displayed on the windows of the university nursing and performing arts societies.
Gojak, who is gay, said he did not want to make his presidency about his sexuality, but felt compelled to act when he realised how little there was available for LGBT students on campus.
“You have queer students that are struggling, and there’s nothing, there’s no public statement, there’s no sign that you’re welcome here,” he said.
He said he felt like the stickers being torn down was “an attack on not only myself but all LGBTIQ students at my university”.
“It made me feel like I had to do something. To have the stickers now repeatedly torn down and the university not wanting to come out publicly condemning these actions and saying it stands by its gay students, it upsets me.”
In her email to Gojak, Hammond said she fully supported the NDSA’s reasons for displaying the sticker, and also felt there were “legitimate concerns” on the other side of the argument.
“The concerns here are that the display of the politically charged stickers on the property of the University could be viewed as an endorsement by the University of matters which are inconsistent with Catholic teachings, and that those who are trying to live their lives consistent with those teachings may feel threatened and/or confused by this,” she wrote.
“I also recognise, with deep regret, that it is possible that we have people within our Notre Dame community who hold homophobic views, such views being inconsistent with our Catholic teachings.”
Notre Dame has a Sexuality and Pastoral Care Working Party, which has recently submitted a recommendation paper to university management on how to best help LGBT people on campus.
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