SOMERS — If you’re LGBTQ — or someone who cares about people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning — this sign is for you.
“Safe zone,” it reads, with rainbow colors and a Parkside logo.
At the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, 900 Wood Road, the sign on an office door or elsewhere indicates the person you’re about to meet is safe to talk with about LGBTQ issues.
Kim White, an academic and career adviser, oversees the safe zone program, which has dozens of signs up around campus. For her work, White won this year’s statewide P.B. Poorman award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ People.
There are safe zone programs around the country. Parkside’s program trains volunteers in a 4-hour class that certifies anyone to post a “safe zone” sign. LGBTQ students on campus do face challenges and need places to turn, White said.
“Some students have experienced bullying, not necessarily here so much at Parkside, but at their high schools, so when they get here to Parkside it’s a bit of transition,” she said. “There’s not always a trust of people.”
Though there’s been a cultural shift over decades, Parkside still has students who are not on speaking terms with their families, and those young people need support, she said.
White also is the organizer and chief cook for Parkside’s Queer Thanksgiving, which provides a Thanksgiving meal, donated by faculty and staff, for LGBTQ students and allies.
Gwen Jones, director of academic and career advising, nominated White for the Poorman award partly because she stepped in to pick up some of the role of the former manager of the campus LGBTQ Resource Center. The manager left in July. The position was eliminated due to budget restrictions, according to Parkside spokesman John Mielke.
The center is still open, staffed by students and overseen by a school diversity and inclusion officer.
Jones has a safe zone sign on her door, which reads: “This space respects all people, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.” It sends a message, she says, that “no judgment is there; no criticism is there.” (Unless the problem is more mundane, like they’re not studying enough, she added.)
The Poorman award is granted annually by the University of Wisconsin system.
“I want people to know it does get better and there are people out there who you can talk to,” said this year’s winner, when asked if she has advice for anyone facing challenge for their differences. “You have to seek them out sometimes.”
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