Walking through the streets of Downtown Lafayette during OUTfest is a type of experience you do not come across very often in a town like West Lafayette.
People who normally blend in with the rest of town’s population now strut the streets in rainbow attire, drag queen outfits, and generally whatever they feel like.
Essentially, OUTfest gives people the opportunity to finally show their true colors, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender is.
It’s a liberating event for people who are not as fully accepted by society as others.
“To have people be able to express themselves is very important to the community,” said Maddie Riordan, who was running the stand for the Tippecanoe County Youth Services at OUTfest.
But once the festivities are over, some people aren’t so lucky.
Young people who are dealing with bullying and harassment due to their sexuality in school and then come home to families who aren’t much more supportive lack a place where they can feel comfortable.
That is where the Tippecanoe County Youth Services, specifically the Safe Place Program, come into play.
The Safe Space Program, started in October of last year, provides children with a place to go to when there is nowhere else to go where they feel safe.
“The main goal is to reduce the amount of kids that are getting arrested for runaway,” Riordan said. ”We’ve seen that the No. 1 reason why youth are being arrested in Tippecanoe County is because of runaway.
“With having a safe place, they can have a cool-off place. Hopefully, instead of getting the police involved, a mental health professional will help to assess the situation. They will see if home is really a place for this kid to go back to, or if there is another place they can go at this point.”
Riordan says that the program will be especially helpful to people who have yet to come out, as well as advising that finding someone they feel comfortable talking to, whether it is talking to a school counselor or any adult they can trust.
However, as the program has only recently been put into action, not many people know about Safe Place.
Efforts have been made to get the word out to schools and corporations, specifically places such as The Excel Center, Hanna Community Center, and various after school programs in middle and high schools, through PSAs and presentations.
The equivalent to The Safe Place Program here at Harrison High School are the stickers on various classrooms doors throughout the school that say “Safe Space.” It’s a demonstration that LGBT students have many places in the school where teachers are willing to help to help them when they face harassment.
This Safe Place Program will help pre-teens and teens in a similar when school is out of session. Not only will the program provide places that can be accessed at nearly any time, but professional help will be available to help defuse the situation.
It’s a way for kids dealing with the complex, stressful dilemma of living as an LGBT teen to feel more comfortable in their own skin.