Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rainbows

A couple weeks ago, I read on someone's blog (sorry, I don't remember whose), a discussion of how people felt about being customers of businesses that advertise with the fish sign, the ichthys, long a symbol of Christianity.

I don't see a lot of businesses up here in the Northwoods using the symbol, nor do I remember any from where I used to live.

On the other hand, a LOT of places throughout this area display Christian symbols in their offices and such, not just the symbols of ubiquitous capitalism at Christmas, but the more religious symbols at a variety of times during the year. I know one eatery here in town that's overtly Christian; their menu explains that they're closed on Sundays so that their employees can have a day with their families. Though I'm not Christian, I respect that choice, and I patronize this place.

I don't think all Christians are evil or anything, but there's a very vocal segment of Christians in this country that overtly hates and encourages hatred. They fight against human rights. They hurt people.

In some places, the overt religious symbols make me tense and edgy because I can't tell whether the symbols are being displayed because the displayers are in the hating group. I just know it's a distinct possibility. I'm a coward.

Just once, in those places, I would love to see a rainbow sign. Just once, I'd like to feel a sense of openness, welcome.

I was thinking, last semester, about that, and I looked around my hall. We tend to display signs on our doors, on our bulletin boards, and in our offices signalling our alliances and interests. Some doors have Native American symbols, some indicate affiliations with organizations or specialties. Baby pictures take prominent positions in several places. My office had a Shakespeare thing, a street sign from my fantasy City, and a picture of a big tree. But with one exception, rainbows are few and far between.

I wonder how our department floor feels for our gay and lesbian students. Do we give a sense of openness or welcome? Mostly, people in this department are pretty open and welcoming, but we don't really seem that way from our doorway displays.

So I sent away for some rainbow design stickers. I couldn't decide from the website which I liked most, or which would fit best on or around my door, so I ordered several. (I had to order them on-line because I couldn't find them for sale anywhere in town, after looking for several months.)

They came this week. I trimmed a small one to fit in the name tag area of the door. And one of my colleagues admired it, so I gave her another to put on her office. Then I put the third up in my office window.

Many of our students seem oblivious to the rainbow symbol, but the students to whom it matters aren't. They'll see it as a symbol. And maybe they'll feel a little more welcome and safe. That's my hope, anyway.

There's no way to control the reading of the signs we use, though. Just as I read the signs Christians use in a variety of ways, so people can read my rainbows in a variety of ways. I wonder if many Christians think about how their signs and symbols look from the outside?

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I can see the light at the end of the tunnel of the week. It's been a week full of meetings and teaching and reading and discussing. I've gotten some useful tasks accomplished, but I'm still feeling overwhelmed and tired.

Can we have spring soon, please?

8 comments:

  1. The door of my former office had one of these--an "all are welcome here" sign. Thanks for the reminder; I'll try to get another one.

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  2. I see the rainbow sticker around a lot on teachers' doors and whatnot, and I've always wondered what the point was. Does the professor expect students to come in and chat about their sexuality? I don't know why I would ever chat with a professor about that. I guess I'm just naive and feel like every space is, or should be, a safe space.

    On the other hand, I guess it fits in with the general door decor, though. The comics, the political bumper stickers, the postcards....

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  3. My gut feeling on seeing the...uh, "jesus fish" thingy or other religious symbolism on a profit-making business is one of distaste. Using a purported religious affiliation as part of business advertising seems kind of unethical to me. I avoid such places.

    "ichthys" is now my word of the day. I tried to sound it out and now there's a wad of phlegm on my monitor.

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  4. Is there an "Allies" program on your campus? (I've seen them on several campuses, but don't know if there's an umbrella organization of any kind.) I have an Allies sticker on my door, and at least once a semester a student thanks me for it. No one has ever come by to chat about their sexuality, but they really don't feel like every space is a safe space, and they appreciate seeing even those small symbols of support.

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  5. Hi Bardiac - This is a great post. I have been thinking about how the service I want to do at my new job - which is in a very conservative area - is to be on the Equity/Human Rights committee. And that I want to start what P/H calls an Allies campaign (which I think is often called a Positive Space campaign at many Canadian unis). I think that in an environment where there is little to no queer visibility, this symbol is crucially important. Crucially. The stats on queer youth are profoundly disheartening. Some are so *incredibly* isolated. It's a human rights crisis, I believe. I think that their seeing that affirmation - and having the sense of a safe space - is really powerful and can in fact have a major impact in terms of their mental health. I continue to think - will always think - that visbility matters.

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  6. Check out the company Northern Sun for rainbow stickers and other fantastic bumperstickers and t-shirts. I order door decorations from them all the time (my current fave bumpersticker on my door is: What if the hokey pokey is what its all about?).

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  7. We just had an allies training yesterday and everyone got an ally rainbow sticker to hang somewhere in their space. Not all folks will display it prominently, I'm sure, but the speaker (from outfront) said that the folks who are looking for confirmation will spot it even in a less prominent place. Apparently we've had this training once a semester; yesterday's had far more participants than expected. YEA!

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  8. Undine, you're welcome :)

    Lydia, I don't expect students to come talk to me about their sex lives. But... I had a male friend where I used to work who always referred to his partner as "they" because he didn't want to lie, and also didn't want to be out at work. I want my students to be comfortable using "he" or "she" for their partner(s). I don't want them to feel they have to constantly be hiding or worried about letting something slip, any more than I'd want straight married folks to feel that they can't wear their wedding ring and have to try to hide the tan line.

    Dr. Dork, English departments are always good for fun words. Can you say "jouissance"?

    Pilgrim/Heretic and Hilaire, I don't think we have an allies program, but we have a strong glbt organization, with a very public space in the main area of the student center; the space seems well-used, with folks sitting around the couches pretty much anytime I pass by. I worry more about the off-campus community, to be honest.

    Roaringgrrl, Thanks for the suggestion. I found mine at cafepress, which seems to have a lot of good choices.

    Timna, I'm glad to hear things are going well at your campus with more people participating.

    Thanks for the encouraging responses, everyone. I needed some of that this week.

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