‘Safe zones’ in my office are designated with pink, yellow, and rainbow stickers. These are the areas for students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered to visit and know they are free to talk about their sexual orientation and about any issues they may be having. Where they are free to just be themselves.
I remember seeing the same pink stickers in my high school. (A long time ago.) The stickers were distributed to students who supported their LGBT peers. I recall unpeeling a hot pink triangle and patching it over my right thigh. I was a freshman and wearing a pair of dad’s old Levi’s from college. At the time I didn’t know anyone who was gay. At least openly. And truthfully, I was still figuring out what all of it meant.
Occasionally I see the stickers on car bumpers. I have probably seen about ten since understanding they were symbols of support. Last week I saw one in Utah. It was on a vehicle from New Jersey.
I tell you this because I am now enrolled in a training session to teach me about the referral system for at-risk students in Utah and learn how to best support members of this community. I signed up today after meeting a college student last night who wanted to share his story.
I was at a friend’s holiday party. He was sitting at the kitchen table and wearing a wool hat pulled over his ears. It was not cold. I introduced myself over empanadas.
We had been talking about five minutes when he told me he was gay. He came out about a year ago after moving out of his parents’ house. He is now cut off from his younger siblings. He is not allowed to go home. They did not handle it well. But better than some.
“Some people have good coming out experiences. Their families don’t care. They always knew,” he said. “Some of us don’t. And they try to take away everything they can from a person. And we all go to the same place—Salt Lake City.”
He told me he wants to open a shelter for homeless gay youth after he graduates. I thought that sounded like a good idea. He said he once wanted to go to an artsy liberal college, but that it was too expensive. He told me he is grateful he now goes where goes. It is a mission of sorts.
“I walked outside holding my boyfriend’s hand last week,” he said. “I wanted people to see. Growing up, I was told that gay people can never be happy. That I would be alone forever. Can you imagine the power in that image for kids who are afraid to come out?”
Upon leaving I told him we would talk more.
In the meantime, I am going to work on getting one of those stickers over my door. I realize it’s not the same as holding hands and walking through a crowd. It’s not even close. And I don’t actually think just anyone will just walk inside my office because they need to talk and saw a sign over my door. But I’d like them to recognize that they can. That there are other pink stickers out there. They just don’t always find their way to the front of our shirts.