Oxford college flies university’s “first-ever rainbow flag”

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

An Oxford University college has flown the rainbow flag above a campus building for the first time in its history.

Wadham College hosts the annual Queerfest, a party which celebrates gay history and culture, and raises awareness for LGBT rights.

In recent years this has been preceded by Queerweek, a collection of talks, discussions and social events.

While the 2011 Queerweek celebrations, which began on the 14 November, saw the lights in the college’s front quad turned pink, organisers sought a more visible display to people outside the college.

Queerweek organiser Michael Brooks, 19, a Philosophy and German undergraduate, told PinkNews.co.uk the reaction from the university and the city has been positive.

Brooks agreed on the idea of raising a flag among the city’s spires with the other event organiser, Sarah Pine, before approaching university authorities.

He said: “We discussed it with the college Dean and then it went through to Governing Body. Everyone responded really positively to the idea and we ended up flying the rainbow flag over Wadham for an entire week.

“Putting up the flag was such a simple thing to do, but it had a huge effect on Oxford. I heard many people from different colleges talking about it. I saw tourists stopping outside Wadham to take photos of it.

“It challenges the stereotypes people have of Oxford and I hope that it will make those within Oxford who do hold very conservative views concerning LGBTQ rights to think differently.

“I was speaking to one student about the rainbow flag and he told me that he was surprised that the ‘powers-that-be’ at Wadham allowed us to fly the flag. I think that this shows that other Oxford colleges do not offer enough support to their LGBTQ community and it’s time for that to change.

Ross Brooks, the author of Oxford’s LGBT city guide Queer Oxford, said he was “stunned and delighted” to have seen the rainbow flag over a university building.

He told PinkNews.co.uk: “For centuries, LGBT culture has been integral to life here in Oxford although it has not always been acknowledged and appreciated.

“It was heartwarming to see Oxford University celebrating diversity in the community so proudly and publicly.”

He added the college was the scene of a notable gay scandal.

The author said: “On 3rd February 1739, Robert Thistlethwayte, Doctor of Divinity and infamous Warden of Wadham, attempted to seduce William French, a commoner of the College.

“The ensuing scandal shook the University to its foundations. Thistlethwayte’s career at Oxford was ruined – he fled to France – but he was immortalised in several delightful limericks which have been uttered here in Oxford ever since the 1730s.”

One of the mentioned rhymes runs:

    There once was a Warden of Wadham
    Who approved of the folkways of Sodom,
    For a man might, he said,
    Have a very poor head
    But be a fine Fellow at bottom

While the flag was first used by the LGBT community in the 1970s, it is believed this is the first official gay symbol to be displayed since teaching began on the university’s site in the 11th century.