Tag: nafsa

Waving a Rainbow Flag in Spain: What Should Study Abroad Students Know?

Waving a Rainbow Flag in Spain: What Should Study Abroad Students Know?

Waving a Rainbow Flag in Spain: What Should Study Abroad Students Know?
By: Eero Jesurun | Director of CIEE Global Institute – Madrid

Every year in June, Gay Pride festival starts up in Madrid and infinite rainbow flags are waving in the hands of most revelers who celebrate the hard-won rights of gays and lesbians. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the annual Gay Pride in many parts of Spain was canceled or celebrated online. Amid this new reality, the public display of the rainbow flag became an unexpected target of cultural strife in Spain. 

While the country emerged out of lockdown, the Spanish postal service announced its historical decision to print rainbow flag stamps in honor of LGBT pride. The post office also spent 10,000 euros (12,000 US dollars) on its pride campaign to brand several mailboxes and delivery vans with the rainbow flag. There is nothing unusual about the display of rainbow banners since they remind everyone that the LGBT community is an essential part of our modern society. Yet there was public criticism for the post office´s “frivolous” marketing expenses during a global health pandemic. This was fueled by ongoing allegations from rightwing Spanish politicians that the rainbow flag is a symbol of a leftwing political lobby. And then the Spanish Supreme Court ruling of June 1, 2020, stated that unofficial flags cannot be placed on the exterior of public buildings. This invigorated many conservative leaders who refused to hang the rainbow flag at their townhall this year. In one terrible incident, someone even burned the rainbow flag that was on public display at a Toledo province mayor´s office.

Why did this Pride icon come under attack in a Western European country that has been hailed for one of the first to enact marriage equality laws and many other civil rights protections of its LGBT citizens?

The response of many Spaniards, and especially the youth, to these events, was an immediate reaction on social media in favor of the rainbow flag and the LGBT community. The postal office made nearly 500.000 euros profit on their stamp sales. Despite the commercial success and community support, the public debate did not quiet down in Spain. Any study abroad student coming to Spain, and possibly many other locations, will need to be open-minded and brave to hear talk and disagreements about politics, religion, sexuality, and the origins of people. This requires that our participants get support in developing intercultural skills, local language learning, and ongoing orientation or access to local resources. One example may be an onsite LGBT buddy peer system.

But I want to come back to the display of the rainbow flag. Students should actively look out for this colorful symbol printed with the rainbow colors. Restaurants, bars, shops, study abroad offices, etc. that have the rainbow flag on their window, door entrance, or indoor walls show support for others with different sexualities, if not a demonstration of full acceptance of these differences. Unfortunately, in some study locations, the rainbow flag is under social scrutiny and faces ongoing censorship. Whereas most in the Western world embrace rainbow flags as a sign of support it is also increasingly seen as a sign of a safety risk, especially and perhaps strangely for minors in certain countries. In Turkey, for example, most children are not allowed to draw rainbows out of a public fear it may “make” them gay.

Spain´s LGBT organizations, fortunately, rallied to embrace the rainbow flag and garnered support with lower regional court rulings that banners or posters of the rainbow-colored flag are part of an immemorial practice in Spain of hanging confectioners. These judges recognized that the rainbow flag identifies certain social groups and, therefore, it does not compete with the official flag of Spain. They also cited a custom in most Spanish towns where flags or banners are hung when remembering important social or civic causes (for example, banners against gender violence or ALS awareness).

In summary, despite the ongoing resistance by several conservative groups and hardline objections by some politicians, the rainbow flag has a renewed meaning of compassion and solidarity in Spain. Albeit Spain is often listed in the top 10 countries in the world for LGBT freedoms, it is not perfect. Hence, I also recognize that this is only one component regarding diversity and inclusion support in study abroad, but I believe that these recent occurrences in Spain cannot be overlooked when Covid-19 dominates world news and we have students preparing participants for study abroad.

Welcome from Co-chairs: A Community that Stands for Black Lives

Welcome from Co-chairs: A Community that Stands for Black Lives

Welcome from Co-chairs: A Community that Stands for Black Lives
By: NAFSA Rainbow SIG Co-Chairs


Jenna Tantillo (she/her) & Valerie Pierce (she/her)

Hello and thanks for being here. 

We’re so grateful to be in community with you as we continue adapting to our increasingly dynamic world. Even just a year ago, we could not have imagined how differently our lives and our field would look today!  With so much going on, it’s as important as ever to join together, even virtually, so it means the world to have you here for our first Q-Log blog.

This year alone we’ve witnessed extreme climate events, a catastrophic global pandemic, the shriveling of our field, an abusive administration, and ongoing racially motivated violence including the police murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many other Black individuals. We spent the summer protesting, whether on the streets, in our communities, or online; and the fight continues. We now approach a polarizing election that has us all feeling something on the spectrum from concern to anguish. And still, we must continue to work, pay bills, stay healthy, show up for our friends and families, and hopefully find moments of joy in the midst of it all. We hope this blog series can bring you some of the sweetness and connection that we all need.

Depending on our lives and intersecting identities, the compounding issues highlighted this year impact us all differently and at varying degrees. And while it’s easy to feel distant from others because our struggles can seem so different, we know they’re all related. In her 1981 article, The Uses of Anger, Audre Lorde, a self-described Black feminist, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet, writes, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” This reminds us that we don’t have to be in someone’s situation to care or to take action. It reminds us that our oppression is intertwined, just as our liberation is intertwined. We have been harmed in the community and we must heal in the community. The Rainbow SIG seeks to be a space where that collective nourishment can be gained and important conversations can be had, so we may co-create the just and equitable field and the world that we seek to inhabit.

The potency of the Black Lives Matter movement this year has asked us to look inward when considering where to dismantle biases. It reminds us that we each have a role to play in actively unlearning the white supremacist ideals that have been deeply ingrained in our subconscious and in our institutions. Even within forward-thinking spaces like LGBTQ+ groups, harm is often still being perpetuated. As the SIG moves forward, we want to highlight our commitment to an intersectional focus on our inclusionary practices. We’ll be particularly critical to how racism, ableism, and cisnormativity show up in our communities. The unlearning needs to happen on an individual and collective level and we are committed to both of those journeys. 

As we look forward to things to come, we also understand that the problems we currently face are not positioned to fade anytime soon. This is our lifelong work and it will take continued effort. This means we must find gentleness in order to sustain our fierceness. We must care for ourselves and each other; we must find joy. Audre Lorde says in her 1988 book of essays, A Burst of Light, that, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” This self and community care will equip us to show up for the sustained effort it will take to attain the individual and collective level-up that is so urgently needed. 

Though we are deeply saddened to have not gathered in person at the NAFSA conference this year, we appreciate your willingness to engage virtually and your commitment to increasing inclusivity within NAFSA and the education abroad space overall. We know that there are many virtual places to be, and we’re humbled that you have chosen to engage with the Q-Log. Just as with our in-person spaces, we hope our virtual communities offer a platform for you to be seen and heard. These spaces can feel like a deep exhale, a cool drink of water, a big morning stretch. They’re spaces where we may continue the important dialogue and generate momentum towards our shared liberation.

Thank you to all the contributors to the Q-Log, to Rainbow SIG volunteers, to members, and to readers for joining us. Thank you for prioritizing queer voices, creative expression, and community building even while the world demands so much. You are seen and appreciated and we are so honored to be co-creating with you.