A room full of people wrote the names of the four people they loved the most on squares of pink paper. On other colored slips, they wrote things they loved to do, roles they cherished, items they couldn’t do without.
Then one by one, those things were randomly crushed, destroyed, taken away, and they were left to see what scraps remained.
“I’m still a father, but my kids are gone,” one man said.
It was just an exercise, but the people in the Safe Zone training at the HUB-Robeson Center on Tuesday learned a little something about what it is like to come out as sexually different, risking losing the things that mean the most just to be honest about who you are.
Some of the people in the room already knew that lesson. Of the 15 people taking the class, everyone comes from a different perspective, academically or socially or experientially.
They all came together to get a better idea of how to help someone on campus who is facing questions about their sexuality or gender identity, or experiencing problems.
Everyone picked up some information along the way.
Daniel Renner works in biochemistry and molecular biology. He is a husband and a father and, if you ask him, he will tell you he is straight..
In a discussion on sex and gender terms, Renner was sometimes a resource to the other members of his group, helping coach through the meanings of terms like transgender or cisgender. Don’t know that one? It’s a more scientific term for having the gender you say you are match up with your biology.
However, he was sometimes at a loss to describe some more evolving terms and newer definitions being seen. What makes pansexual different from bisexual? Does gay refer to everyone with same-sex feelings or just men? What does it all really mean?
“There are a thousand billion different words,” Renner said.
Some are outdated and generally avoided, like cross-dresser. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Queer and Ally Student Resource Center program coordinator Natasha Cox called that a “term to challenge,” something that is more derogatory and inappropriate.
Queer, on the other other hand, led some people to blanch, remembering it as a high school insult. That’s not necessarily true anymore.
“It’s really powerful for me,” said Cox, who used the word. “If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t use it.”
That kind of comfort and appreciation is a hallmark of the community, and the training.
“I think so much of this just relates back to social norms of respect,” attendee Kelly Powell said.
Penn State does well in this area, Cox said. The university scores five stars from Campus Pride, an organization that rates colleges on inclusiveness and support.
“I think Penn State is really receptive. It seems that Penn State has been thinking of inclusiveness for a long time,” she said.
More training sessions will be held in February and April, but Cox said individual departments can also schedule sessions by contacting the resource center. More specialized training will also be planned for the spring semester.
The resource center plans events for the LGBTQ community. Some are fun, like a game night. Some are educational, like a lecture. Others are more like survival skills.
On Wednesday from 6-8 p.m., they will host “Home for the Holidays,” an opportunity for people to prepare for the sometimes daunting task of sitting around the Thanksgiving table with family members who don’t understand.
“A lot of people are out at school and not at home,” Cox said.
That means having a Safe Zone on campus is even more important. The participants in Tuesday’s class all left with a sticker — a rainbow background with a blue and white paw print — to display as a subtle sign to anyone who needs to talk without fear of judgment or scorn.