When the Pride flag on the campus of the University of British Columbia was burned last February, the school called it an “act of hate.” A parade to support transgender people, planned to take place a few days later as part of UBC’s OUTweek, was cancelled out of security concerns. But after a police investigation, the flag burning turned out to have a surprising mastermind: a woman who self-identifies as transsexual.
According to CTV News, Brooklyn Fink did not deny burning the flag during a court appearance where she faced a CAD$5,000 fine for mischief. She told media she objected to the replacement of the university’s flag with the Pride banner, claiming the Pride flag was too political and the UBC symbol was in fact more inclusive.
“As a media artist, I intended on burning the flag only to illustrate my displeasure at the university’s failure to come to an agreement about the flag’s offensiveness.
“It’s just really tragic that we’re still fighting with identity politics.”
At the time of the flag burning, the city of Vancouver responded by flying a Pride flag at City Hall. While the parade was cancelled, the remainder of OUTweek events went ahead as planned with no further problems, according to a Globe and Mail report.
— CBC British Columbia (@cbcnewsbc) April 26, 2016
On Tuesday, Fink asked for the dismissal of the mischief charge, which was denied. She has been suspended from the university and will be back in court on May 17.
“As her Majesty’s loyal subject I did my duty and protected the [UBC] flag” – Brooklyn Finkhttps://t.co/gAN55Byt7f
— BCIT Broadcast News (@bcitnews) April 26, 2016
The incident highlighted fractures within the community of those with nonconforming gender or sexual identities, a community that is often portrayed as homogeneous.
While condemning Fink’s actions, Vancouver trans activist and chair of the Trans Alliance Society, Morgane Oger, told CBC News that discrimination against trans people does exist within the LGBT community. But the flag burning led many to fear there were more sinister forces at work.
“Transsexual people do struggle with being marginalized within the LGBT community.
“This woman, she set fire to a flag, and she set off this gigantic uproar, that everybody across Canada thought some hater somewhere was coming after us again.
“And it turns out that no, it was a trans person who was really unhappy about not being heard.”
The idea that the “T’ is the forgotten part of “LGBT” is not new. Several commentators have discussed how a diverse community has been grouped together for political reasons even if it does not reflect reality. While lesbian and gay rights have been advanced, trans rights are often forgotten or compromised.
Blogger Tyler Curry wrote in The Huffington Post in 2014 that gay rights and trans rights should be separate. Curry notes that discrimination against trans people within the LGBT community sometimes takes the form of the use of offensive words, said by gay — but not trans — people, with the justification that those words are not offensive because those saying them are part of the same community.
Brooklyn Fink, who spoke to media after her motion to have the mischief charge dismissed failed, said she did not feel a part of the LGBT label. UBC’s OUTweek is said to include transgender and transsexual people. But Fink felt any flag that singled out one group of people on campus fails to be inclusive. She mused that the UBC flag might in future cede to smaller groups such as a campus pro-life campaign.
The 32-year-old said that, a decade ago, she was just another tall woman. But since the issue of gender identity has come to the forefront of social and political discussion, her day-to-day experience has changed.
“Ten, 12 years ago I was just a tall woman and nobody thought anything of it.
“But because these gender nonconformers are being so loud and proud… now everybody looks and they can see oh, that tall woman with a deep voice, maybe she’s a dude.”
Fink has already been suspended from the University of British Columbia. She faces a permanent expulsion as a result of the flag burning incident.
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]