OPINION: Waving symbols of safety on Kent State’s campus

Maria Ferrato Opinion Writer

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about freedom of speech on Kent State’s campus. She was expressing anger with campus for — in her opinion — only supporting the liberal agenda.

The example she provided is that there are more pride flags on Kent State’s campus than Kent State flags. Obviously, this statement is inaccurate. She continued, explaining how dorm rooms require everyone to put their pronouns on their doors, there’s a bulletin board in the HUB dedicated to the LGBTQ+ Center and there are rainbow flags everywhere.

She said it frustrates her that such symbols are permitted on campus when the opposite symbols would be removed.

This begs the question: what is the opposite of a pride flag? How do you represent bigotry through symbols?

When I asked her this, she said that there are no religious symbols on campus and thus there shouldn’t be pride symbols. I full-heartedly disagree.

Firstly, religion is not the opposite of pride; a cross is not the opposite of a rainbow flag. Religious people understand this since they are called to love thy neighbors as thyself. Religion does not call for exclusion or bigotry.

Calling religion the opposite of pride is a terrible propagation of religiously-excused bigotry and an insult to those who are religious and still accept everyone.

We need to stop giving bigots a scapegoat.

Additionally, one can love the same sex and still love God (and God will still love them).

Secondly, the nation agreed in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to separate church from state. We go to a state school; therefore, there are not supposed to be religious symbols on campus.

Thirdly, I would actually argue that there are religious symbols all over campus. Cru, Hillel and Young Life advertise themselves just as much as the LGBTQ+ Center on campus does. In fact, the campus provides an entire “religious” category of student organizations on the Center for Student Involvement’s website.

There are 25 organizations on campus that register themselves as religious groups. There are seven LGBTQ+-related organizations.

Beyond the logic of my argument as to why pride flags shouldn’t be removed from campus, there’s the important element of emotion.

As a bisexual woman who originally attended John Carroll University, a small, private, Jesuit school, before transferring to Kent State, I can attest to the power of pride flags and other LGBTQ+ support.

Even though I came out in high school, I essentially went back in the closet at John Carroll to protect my mental and emotional wellbeing. I was surrounded by disdain for the LGBTQ+ community. While it sometimes took form as microaggressions — like trying to separate my sexuality from my identity when it’s an essential aspect of myself and the culture I enjoy — it was often blatant bigotry.

In fact, a student wrote an article in 2018 about the annual drag show, calling the then-new president of the John Carroll campus to cancel the event. The article received 23 “claps,” and seven of the 10 comments were positive. Then, in 2019, President Michael Johnson did indeed cancel the drag show.

While there was some anger toward Johnson, the drag show is still not permitted to take place on campus. In fact, in 2020, the LGBTQ+ Center on campus traveled to Case Western University for their drag show since John Carroll wouldn’t permit it. Many John Carroll students have simply conceded or given up, but many more agree with the decision to ban the annual show.

A big reason I transferred was that I did not feel comfortable expressing myself at John Carroll because of hurtful comments or actions like canceling the drag show.

In October of 2020, Kent State earned recognition as being one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly colleges and universities in the nation. I swelled with joy and comfort learning that.

To me, pride flags are a symbol of safety. Just a flag. That’s all it takes to make me feel like I am in an environment where I can be myself.

I hope Kent State never stops waving its rainbow flags with pride, but, more importantly, I hope people can understand why it’s important to do so.

Maria Ferrato is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected].