CHASIcast: CHASI RAs on the destruction of flags and the meaning of Pride

On this special Pride episode of the CHASIcast, we welcome four of the amazing students who work at CHASI: Lynsie Beaulieu, Ekat Marenkov, and Miranda Erickson, all research assistants, and Frankie Fowle, a graphic design intern.

After several months seeing targeted hate first hand with the repeated vandalism and theft of CHASI’s Pride flags display on campus, they discuss what that experience felt like first-hand, what comes next for Pride on campus, and where they draw their hope and strength from.

Four women sit in the CIVL Radio studio with headhphones on and microphones in front of them. A quote from Miranda Erickson reads: “Looking back at all of the incidences where people have stepped on or spit on, or broken, or thrown out the flags... it’s upsetting because they were just existing and it feels very symbolic of the community as a whole. Like we’re not asking for allyship, we’re not asking for money, we’re not asking for resources. We’re just existing. And just the fact that we’re existing is enough to incite hatred and aggressive ... they feel threatened by it because apparently just existing is not enough. They need to not see us. They need us to not be here.”

Hosted by CHASI’s director Dr. Martha Dow and recorded in CIVL Radio’s studio at the University of the Fraser Valley, the CHASIcast is available to stream below, or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music/Audible, and other platforms!

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Miranda Erickson: Looking back at all of the incidences where people have stepped on or spit on, or broken, or thrown out the flags… it’s upsetting because they were just existing and it feels very symbolic of the community as a whole. Like we’re not asking for allyship, we’re not asking for money, we’re not asking for resources. We’re just existing. And just the fact that we’re existing is enough to incite hatred and aggressive actions by people who are cowards and who don’t want to do these things where they’re gonna be seen and they’re attacking a small part of campus that, you know, put up Pride flags not by the university, but by us, by queer people, by CHASI, and they feel threatened by it because apparently just existing is not enough. They need to not see us. They need us to not be here.

Intro: Based out of the University of the Fraser Valley on unceded, traditional lands of the Stó:lō people, we are the Community Health and Social Innovation Hub, or CHASI for short. We support the social, mental, emotional, physical, and economic health of those living in our communities by bringing together experts from across disciplines. Those experts have some incredible stories and insights. To share those with the communities. We bring you the CHASIcast, a monthly program where we drill down on a current topic and chat about how it impacts our lives.

Dr. Martha Dow: Hi, I’m Martha Dow and I’m excited to be here today with four amazing members of the CHASI team. I’m gonna get them to introduce themselves, and then we’re gonna have a conversation about Pride.

Frankie Fowle: Hi, I am Frankie Fowle and I’m in my fourth year of my BFA, majoring in graphic design.

Lynsie Beaulieu: Hi, I am Lynsie Pratt. I am a student researcher at CHASI as well. Finishing my degree, graduating this summer.

Ekat Marenkov: Go Lynsie! Hi, I’m Ekat and, I’m a philosophy student here at UFV

Miranda Erickson: Hi, I’m Miranda. I’m also a student research assistant at CHASI and I’m going into my fourth year as a sociology major.

Dr. Martha Dow: Great, thanks, and thanks for taking the time. I know we’re all really busy with what’s going on, so I appreciate it. So it’s pride month and that’s exciting and has lots of different meaning for, for everybody. We’ve also had some incidents on campus, as we certainly know, in CHASI of vandalism and theft of the pride flags. So I thought we could just start by… anywhere you wanna enter there, what does pride mean to you in 2023? If you wanna speak to the flags and how that weaves in, but I just thought let’s start the conversation there. Frankie, you wanna get us going?

Frankie Fowle: Sure. Okay, Pride. Pride to me, I think it’s a time to celebrate, but a time to remember that Pride is protest and it always has been and probably always will be protest.

And so taking time to be celebratory. But remember that we still need to stand up. For rights and equality.

Dr. Martha Dow: I’m always struck that I think us queer folk really have a, have an ability to bring protest and celebration together in a way that’s energizing. Lynsie what about you?

Lynsie Beaulieu: Yeah, I think Pride to me is freedom. It’s taking up space and celebrating who we are. And recognizing the people who have fought for so long for our rights right now. And part of that being, it’s a riot. It’s a protest.

Miranda Erickson: For me, Pride is definitely about community. I try to recognize the history of Pride, but I think as a young, queer person, especially acknowledging not just the history of pride as protests, but also as people coming together and belonging, especially in a space where, you maybe haven’t always felt like you belong and you’ve always felt isolated, but being able to see other people who recognize you and who can relate to what you’re going through has been incredibly impactful, and that’s my favorite part of pride is the joy that it brings to see other people who recognize you and what you’re going through.

Dr. Martha Dow: So Ekat I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit to this idea of visibility and what that means to you.

Ekat Marenkov: Yeah, so Pride Month in particular, right? It’s about being visible and showing you’re proud and stuff. But I think in the, in the community you hear a lot of like, oh, like I don’t care. What if people are gay? Just like keep it to yourselves. Like, why do you have to show yourself off and all of that, right?

But the second that you say something like that, clearly you have a problem with us, right? And so that’s why being visible is, you know, so important cause we exist and representation is important, right? Because otherwise how are people gonna, you know, join a community of, you know, like-minded people.

Dr. Martha Dow: Lynsie I wonder if you could pick up on that just a little bit in terms of the flags and what that sort of meant to you.

Lynsie Beaulieu: Yeah, I think, you know, taking up space is really important and not hiding ourselves away for other people’s comfort.

And I think us putting up those flags was creating a space for the community as they walk past CHASI and seeing all these flags and you know, we’re communicating. This is a place for you. You are safe, you’re not alone. And I remember that day that we witnessed someone pull out the flags from the ground and stomp on them.

And previously people had thrown them in the garbage and, you know, that was really demoralizing And yeah, it just made me feel small, like a lot of us at CHASI, and I remember the moment Martha saw it happen, her and Jeff, and she ran out there and so many emotions were going through my mind.

I was inspired by that act. I was scared for you, also. I think part of me was processing your safety as you were confronting someone who was, kind of, taking part in that harmful behaviour. I just watched you confront them and in a way you were gentle and calm but still very assertive. And yeah, I remember us talking about it after and the way that you approached that conversation with those two individuals.

You just, you questioned why they chose to do that and gave them space to process their behaviour and why it was harmful and why those flags are there and why it’s important to us. I was kinda struck by how concerned I was for you and your safety as a professor here on campus. I just, I guess I think that you’re invincible and to see you in a position like that, I… yeah, still processing it, I think.

Dr. Martha Dow: Thanks for that. That’s fascinating. I think a lot of people don’t understand conversations around safety, and the complexities that are woven into those moments. So I think that was a, that was an interesting moment for us to be able to unpack it a little bit as a group as well.

I use the word urgency a lot and I think about it a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time where people have said does everything have to be a thing? And I joke a lot that mostly the answer is yes to that. So also pleased to, you know, curious about your thoughts around what inspires you right now? What gives you hope?

Frankie Fowle: I think this whole flag issue, like, especially like around safety and it, it feels like not-so-micro-aggression. And it’s a good reminder I think for everybody, especially those who identify as queer that, you know, you always have to be mindful of safety and always have to kind of like think about that first before proceeding with anything.

And I think that that’s a good reminder and a good message for those who maybe have some privilege in the way of understanding that, you know, identifying as openly queer comes with the responsibility of being mindful of your own safety.

Miranda Erickson: Yeah. For me, Putting up the flags was actually the first time I’d ever seen a Pride flag in person. I’ve lived in Abbotsford my whole life and I’m very happy with where I am, and I genuinely love Abbotsford, but I think part of that love means that I have to be able to critique it and say that we can build better spaces. And looking back at all of the incidences where people have stepped on or spit on, or broken, or thrown out the flags…

it’s upsetting because they were just existing and it feels very symbolic of the community as a whole. Like we’re not asking for allyship, we’re not asking for money, we’re not asking for resources. We’re just existing. And just the fact that we’re existing is enough to incite hatred and aggressive actions by people who are cowards and who don’t want to do these things where they’re gonna be seen and they’re attacking a small part of campus that, you know, put up Pride flags not by the university, but by us, by queer people, by CHASI and they feel threatened by it because apparently just existing is not enough. They need to not see us. They need us to not be here.

But the fact that we’re still putting up flags, I think is queer resilience. For me, it’s queer joy to be able to do that and to be able to see other people and the stories of people who have said, oh, I saw these flags in the trash. Or, I saw your post on Instagram, or I saw, you know, I’ve heard about this, and who have come to say whether they’re part of the communities or whether they’re allies to say, I see what’s been happening. It’s not okay. I want you to know that I’m with you.

To be able to see both sides of Abbotsford where there are people who are homophobic and who don’t want us to be here, but there are also people who support us and recognize the significance of those flags. That has definitely been transformative for me in understanding what it means to be queer and what it means to be community, and not just be a queer community, but also to have allies who care about us.

Dr. Martha Dow: How’s the labour feel? You know, it’s, it’s work.

Frankie Fowle: It’s exhausting. It really is. And I know I find myself just like having to go take a minute because it feels like it’s every day there’s a new thing every day. And I also feel like maybe there’s a bit of responsibility because if people if people don’t speak up, who’s going to speak up?

Lynsie Beaulieu: This conversation makes me think of a quote from Peter Tatchell, a human rights activist, and he says “don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be, and then help make it happen.” And I think at CHASI that’s what we’re doing. It is in a nine to five clock, in clock out kind of job.

I tell anyone I talk to that I have the coolest job that me and my coworkers are partaking in activism in the community and figuring out, okay, what can we do? How can we support each other and the community? And, you know, the flags were part of that. And it was, yeah, incredibly empowering and created a really cool, safe space for me and for all of us.

Dr. Martha Dow: It’s interesting, I promise it wasn’t by design, but we do have quite a collective of individuals that I identify as part of the queer community. And there’s great celebration obviously and it’s lovely and allyship and all of these things that are happening.

But I also wonder sometimes if I’m struck that there aren’t enough spaces and therefore this is a bit of a… CHASI’s a bit of a magnet because there isn’t enough space. And so that’s a different side. I wonder if any of you have thoughts about that.

Frankie Fowle: I think there’s always opportunity for more safe spaces. Always. And I think especially with our current political climate and just the way the world seems to be going right now, that having space, safe space, for queer folks is super important. And I feel maybe there definitely could be some improvement in that area. And not even like safe space just for queer people, but safe space for allies and a place where, people can go and learn and be a part of a bigger community.

Dr. Martha Dow: What’s our responsibility for the education part? You know, it’s all tied in, it’s a bit threaded into the ideas around labour for sure. But what’s what’s the responsibility of community to, to do the education, to do the work, to enter into the conversations to explain where are you, what’s your thinking? Where are you at in that regard?

Ekat Marenkov: I think you gotta like, sure, like don’t engage with people that are, you know, committed to misunderstanding you. That’s, you know, fruitless. But as long as you’re, you know, talking to people that you know, sure they might be ignorant or, you know, even a little bit bigoted, but you can, you can chip away at it. It’s not a total loss.

Miranda Erickson: I think just to go off of that, I think those are great points. In addition to that, recognizing like the person you’re talking to might not be a safe person to talk to and they might not be receptive, but it’s not always about the fact that you have to change the mind of the person you’re talking to.

There are other people who are listening to the conversation and maybe they’re influenced. And I also think it’s personally important because the more you talk about defending yourself and defending your own rights and standing up for yourself, the better that’s gonna make you feel. Cause I spent a lot of time not having those conversations.

Because I was genuinely scared for my safety. And being able to have conversations recognizes I’m not alone. There are people who will agree with me, not everybody will. But being able to find through those conversations, people who, you know, maybe come aside later and say, hey, what you did was amazing, was very brave. Thank you for speaking up. I wasn’t, you know, feeling safe enough to speak up.

And even just knowing myself, oh, I can defend myself. I can say these things. I’m allowed to take up this space because I exist, and I’m not gonna try and fit into somebody else’s box to accommodate for what makes them comfortable, because then that takes away from who I am and I’m not any less of a person than they are just because they don’t like my identity.

Dr. Martha Dow: What about allyship? What does allyship mean in your, in your worlds, in your mind?

Frankie Fowle: I think for me, allyship means that you’re able to come together and celebrate difference. And to support difference. Yeah. And just to like be a part of a bigger community.

Dr. Martha Dow: So a lot of people may not realize why the flags are there, how it started, why we, you know, kind of doubled down each time something happened.

But we had originally wondered if with The Laramie P roject production that the flag could go up, the Pride flag could go up on the main, one of the main flag poles. It wasn’t we weren’t allowed to do that because of university policy with respect to how when flags go up, et cetera. So then we wondered about an art installation, but art installation has also a policy.

So we came down to working with SOCA and Shelley Liebenbuk, who was amazing, director of the play that it was kind of signage as they came into the theater. So, Miranda, I wonder if you might, you know, speak a little bit to that.

Miranda Erickson: The Laramie Project was definitely an interesting choice for a play to be put on, specifically regarding to the political climate that we were in then, and we still still are in at this time. It was a story of Matthew Shepard, who was a gay man in Laramie, Wyoming. And he was killed. He was murdered by two men who admitted that they knew that he was gay and decided that he had to lose his life for it. And I won’t go into the details of his death because it could be very upsetting, but the story that the play talks about, has a lot of parallels I find to Abbotsford where something like that wasn’t supposed to happen in a city like Laramie.

But things like that did happen because it did happen in Laramie. And the community response as it was told in the play, which was done a very well done job by the theatre that produced the actual plan also by the UFV Theatre that put it on, talks about the different communities, the religious communities, the allies, the queer communities, people who knew Matthew, people who knew who the murderers were and their stories.

And it paints a very beautiful and tragic and compelling picture of what it means to be a community that does not want to acknowledge the hatred that exists within it. But also, has hatred within it and the stories of people who are combating that.

And so the flags that were leading up to, you know, through the walkway up to the theatre were just a reminder of, yes, this is a heavy play. And yes, there are heavy, you know, topics within it, but it’s still story about resilience. And it’s a story about a community who came together to defend Matthew and his character and to remember his story. And to say that even though it might feel similar to the environment that a lot of the viewers are in and to, a lot of us are in, there are still allies and still people who care.

And we are committed to making sure that this is a safe space and that even if we do not always feel safe, we do have community that we can talk to. And the flags were really incredibly symbolic of resilience within the context of. We are still here.

Dr. Martha Dow: So the flags are gonna come down, but they’re gonna come down on our terms and I think with celebration and pride and power and they’re gonna come down on Wednesday.

So I wonder if we could talk a little bit about the Tea Dance that CHASI and lots of other individuals and groups on campus are supporting to make happen, and what that means to you in terms of, again, kind of thinking about this celebration. And I should also say that they’re coming down because we have senior administration support for a permanent Pride display on campus.

And we have a, a wonderfully suggested location from CHASI and friends and we’re excited to move forward on that project. So, so the Tea Dance is Wednesday and the Tea Dance has some really cool history around protest and a community coming together in a celebratory way to resist oppression. And so thoughts on, thoughts on Wednesday and, and the flags, this sort of era ending and what we’re moving forward to in terms of the flags.

Frankie Fowle: I love that we’ve called it a Tea Dance. I think it’s a great opportunity to share history and and share like appreciation for folks who have fought the fight before we, we have and kind of paved the way. And I also think that taking those flags down on our terms is important. They’re not coming down because we’re tired of replacing them.

They’re coming down because there’s something bigger on the horizon. And the fact that we’re gonna take those flags and repurpose them into something else I think is really cool. Just so that it’s a reminder of. Yeah, just to continue to be resilient, continue to fight the fight, continue to stand up for yourself.

Dr. Martha Dow: Lynsie what are you looking forward to about Tea Dance aside from the song you’re gonna be singing for?

Lynsie Beaulieu: Oh no, *laughs* I think kind of going off of what we were talking about earlier about allyship and CHASI just happening to be a bit more queer of a group. I think we’ve worked really hard to reach out to other.

Groups within UFV and bring everyone together. And, you know, this celebration on Wednesday is part of that. It’s educating people on history and welcoming them in a space that isn’t just for queer people. It’s for allies and people who want to come alongside us and support us and just dance and be together and celebrate our differences.

So I’m really looking forward to it. I’m gonna have to warm up my vocal chords, that’s for sure. Get my dancing shoes on.

Dr. Martha Dow: And for those who don’t know, we are having Queeraoke as well. So that’s a shout out to Jen and Sustainability for coming up with that one. Tea Dance, Ekat

Ekat Marenkov: Yeah, I got my, got my dancing shoes ready. And yeah, looking forward to celebrating with, you know, people I care about and the community that’s just meant so much to me over the last, you know, few years that I’ve been at CHASI and UFV and all of that. So… not singing karaoke though.

Lynsie Beaulieu: We’ll see about that.

Miranda Erickson: I’m excited for just a big gay party. I think, you know, that it just sounds like a lot of fun just to be surrounded by people in the community. I’m very excited.

Dr. Martha Dow: Wonderful. Well, thanks for taking the time. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to spend as much time as I do with all of you and everybody else that we share CHASI and allies with on all sorts of different important topics, but certainly Pride with everything going on in the world.

Right now, it’s an important time for us to feel some urgency, some celebration, some protests sprinkled in there for good measure. And so I’m excited. I always learn so much from you. And on the off chance that we get this out before Wednesday that I hope people, more people will be there Wednesday.

I hope we’ll have a wonderful crowd. I hope we’re gonna see lots of senior admin and other members of the UFV community out there dancing and celebrating our community. So thanks very much.

Miranda Erickson: Gay power.

Everyone: *Laughs*