A rainbow-colored arch of balloons and two cakes with rainbow icing complemented the festive atmosphere in the Pit as students gathered at noon.
Although this program has existed for four years, it is being revamped this year, said Marcie Fisher, diversity advocacy and research training coordinator for Student Health Service.
Fisher said the event, sponsored by the dean of students and the Center for Healthy Student Behaviors, has been in the works since last summer. Safe Zone offers training sessions for any students, faculty or staff members who wish to be allies for LGBT students.
Traci Wike, a second-year graduate student in the School of Social Work and intern at the Center for Healthy Student Behaviors, said anyone can be an ally. She said those who choose to be allies and complete the necessary training sessions must place a Safe Zone sign at their work or home as a visible representation that they support the LGBT community.
"They will be somebody that's a safe person for a student, faculty or staff member to talk to if they have any LGBT issues," Wike said. "(Safe Zone) offers a safe space for that person to be themselves."
The event was hosted by junior Fred Hashagen, LGBT administrative assistant. Provost Robert Shelton started the event by encouraging students to sign the Safe Zone pledge that hung in the Pit. Student Body President Justin Young also recited the pledge verbally in front of the gathered audience.
The Safe Zone pledge stated, "I pledge to work toward making the UNC community a safe and welcoming place for persons of all sexual orientations."
Senior Marcus Harvey spoke, evoking audience applause. "I speak today as one black gay college student," he said. "I speak because not all blacks are straight and not all gays are white. ... No group or class of people should be oppressed."
After Harvey spoke, musical groups Tar Heel Voices, the Achordants and the Walk-Ons sang. Jenny Walker, a junior member of the Walk-Ons, said she was grateful to have her group participate. "All of us really support Safe Zone," Walker said. "To us, it's really important that Carolina is open to all groups on campus."
Student Body Vice President Rudy Kleysteuber quoted George Bernard Shaw, saying indifference is a worse sin than hate. "If you're straight, the way to not be indifferent is to sign the Safe Zone pledge," Kleysteuber said.
Hashagen said he hopes someday Safe Zone will have a representative in each academic department to respond to any problems LGBT students might have. "We hope to change Carolina's atmosphere where everyone will either be a Safe Zone ally or it won't be necessary."
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