The story of the first pride flag raising at Queen’s

Former JDUC Director recalls progress made in society and campus

The pride flag flies during June to show visibility. 
Photo: 

This June, the pride flag adorned campus crosswalks and buildings, and flew at the corner of Union and University. This hasn’t always been the norm. 

Trustee Emeritus Bob Burge recalled the first time the pride flag was unfurled on campus in an interview with The Journal. Burge, now the Registrar at Okanagan College, was the Director of the JDUC from 2003-08, under the Dean of Student Affairs. 

In Burge’s words, the story of the pride flag being raised at the JDUC for the first time was “simple and beautiful.” 

According to Burge, the flag was raised in either 2003 or 2004, when a student heavily involved with the AMS came to Burge’s office and asked if they could raise the flag over the JDUC—making it the first pride flag to be raised on campus.

“I didn't think I'd have to ask for permission. I said, you just have to bring me the flag. And so the student brought me the flag.” Burge said. “I made a joke that I couldn't fly the flag, because it didn't have any grommets on it. The facilities and [Physical Plant Services] people took the flag away and they put in the grommets.”

Burge said there was a flag raising shortly after. He recalls people on campus saying they were surprised the flag wasn’t raised earlier.

Burge believes the raising of the pride flag at the JDUC was fundamental in starting the conversation around the queer community on campus and making the community more visible.

“There wasn't a lot of, say, queer stuff on campus, or really in the community [...] A lot if it was underground. The positive space committee existed and so there was activity—there just wasn't a lot of it,” Burge said. 

“It made the campus more open and friendly. It was a great visual at the time. And not a lot of places were flying the flag. Even businesses didn't really put the flag out.” 

As for pride month itself, Burge reflected on how the meaning of pride has changed for him and university students in general. 

“Just the concept of being out on campus, especially for our trans-identified students, has really opened up, it's much more inclusive,” Burge said. “The EDII and social justice concepts have been embraced by a larger group of people.”

Burge said another step towards inclusion during his time at Queen’s was the formation of the Queen’s University Association of Queer Employees, which was started by four employees, including himself. 

“We have to continue working towards EDII. It really makes it a much more positive place for students to study and professors to teach and staff to work,” Burge said. 

Now working in post-secondary administration, Burge said a critical piece of EDII work is intentionality. He said students and administrators must use an EDII lens is used to check their own biases.

“Queen’s does a lot of training through the Human Rights and Equity Office, and some of those have to be mandatory to advance inclusion,” Burge said. 

Burge also reminisced on his work with student leaders while JDUC director, speaking to students directly. 

“Get involved and keep your eyes open and be very respectful of everyone [...] The AMS and SGPS executives that got the most done engaged broadly with people and initiatives, including permanent staff—it is hard to get projects done if there isn’t engagement,” Burge said.  

At the end of the day, Burge said despite hate filled events, visibility is crucial in fighting back.

“The pride flag brings visibility into focus; the different pride flags show the diversity of the community.”

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