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March 11, 2015 5:23 AM   Subscribe

“You Are Welcome Here”: Small Stickers Make a Big Difference for LGBTQ Scientists
Upon entering, I immediately noticed tiny stickers dotting the halls: the iconic WHOI ship, sailing in front of a rainbow sky over the words, “You are welcome here.” I can’t describe how powerful it was to see those welcome messages on the office doors of scientists’ whose work had inspired me to pursue biological oceanography – in a building commemorating an oceanographer, Alfred C. Redfield, who discovered a conserved atomic ratio between carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus that I think about in my research every day. The ship stickers are small, maybe even easy to miss if you’re not attuned, but they packed a punch strong enough to rid me of my worries. I left the Redfield Building with renewed vigor, confident about what I was pursuing, only worried about feet that were literally wet, but not figuratively.
posted by Lexica (16 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
The article says this started at MIT in 2010, but it existed at the University of Toronto by 1999. I can't find a date, but I know I was seeing signs on office doors by then. That's probably not the first place, either. Looking for the date, I found that the more generic name for the movement is safe space.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:48 AM on March 11, 2015

My institution, lamentably doesn't have any of these. We have big 11x17 "This door is always open" posters for inclusivity, but we don't have anything small (door real estate is valuable. Where am I going to put all my dumb specialty-specific cartoons?). For my own part I picked up a few postcard-sized YAWH door tags when I last visited MIT, cut off the (MIT-specific) URL, and put the trimmed-down tag on my nameplate, right under my office hours. But I wish UofL would have them for everyone. People who might balk at finding the space for an 11x17 could usually find a way to put a little tag on either their door or nameplate.

Also, I'm quite certain I saw YAWH tags at MIT as early as 2002, so that 2010 date seems way off.
posted by jackbishop at 6:20 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it would be nice if there were low impact ways for people to signal "I am generally supportive." The "safe space" idea is great, but it usually requires a little training and the implication that you are offering at least marginal services (at the very least information), and this means that only the dedicated go to the trouble. A way for the default to be "only the bigots dissent" is a huge conceptual change, although one I think that is slowly coming.

Is this a huge step for LGBTQ rights? Nope. But there is a place for the low-impact gesture. A while back at my institution we had a faculty-regalia event with a mildly controversial speaker (he had made some homophobic comments in the past and had not repudiated them but had not made further offensive comments). Many of the faculty, even those not particularly allied with LGBTQ issues, showed up with rainbow ribbons on their regalia as a (very mild protest). Since then the administration seems to have been more careful with their choice of speakers. It's not a big thing, but that doesn't mean it's not a thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:38 AM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

What's the opposite of a microaggression?
posted by PMdixon at 6:52 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

>> What's the opposite of a microaggression?

posted by JohnFredra at 7:04 AM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

posted by MartinWisse at 7:14 AM on March 11, 2015 [19 favorites]

I was in the class of 2009 at MIT, and they were definitely an established presence on campus before I left. I think they were not new when I was a freshman, even, but I am less certain of that.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:16 AM on March 11, 2015

We have our own version of these in my fortune 500 company. On or about National Coming Out Day, and by request for the rest of the year, there are rainbow ribbons available for anyone who wants them. People grab them and hang them on their door handles or pin them up in their cubes.
It's just a little thing I (and many others) do to supplement my involvement in our LGBTQA employee resource group, but I like to think it may be impactful for someone like the author of this article. If nothing else, I like the message it sends to new hires and recent graduates. People come here from all sorts of backgrounds, some more progressive than others.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 7:22 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel a little weird defending this concept, because it seems like a way to let lazy disengaged people "participate," but, on reflection, I don't think that's a bad thing to do. We are at a balance point in the acceptance of the most mainstream parts of gay and lesbian life (the B, T, and Q people are still lagging, I think). A lot of people in the (urbanized Western) are basically OK with gays and lesbians as long as they are otherwise conforming to societal expectations* but a lot of these people are not terribly engaged, and it still takes a fair amount of effort to be an ally and the default is to support the historical status quo of "hostile until proven otherwise." If we can push the balance to the point where the status quo becomes "supportive until proven otherwise," and it's the bigots who need to put the time and energy into being visible, that would be a significant win, I think.

* I am really concerned that we will get to a place as a society where things are fairly comfortable to the most mainstream elements of the GLBTQ spectrum, and those people can decide to stop devoting their time and resources to the struggle.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:54 AM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

I remember these at McGill and most of the profs in the department just put them up -- again around 2000 -- except one guy who was like "Oh, I don't want to be political". I always thought he was gross and was disappointed when he got tenure, especially since I think his research was pretty shitty to go with his personality.
posted by jeather at 7:59 AM on March 11, 2015

UNH - Durham campus had something similar to this as early as 1992.
posted by feistycakes at 8:11 AM on March 11, 2015

i'd love a small sticker or ribbon like this! I was very sad the day I took my equality [=] window cling down from my car because I learned of some non-trans-friendly stuff they did. Something small, simple, that means "I support."
posted by rebent at 8:28 AM on March 11, 2015

I was pleased to see these at Texas A&M when I visited with a prospective student last year. A few little signs or stickers discretely in the anthropology department office. It seemed particularly important for Texas A&M. The school is quite socially conservative, one of the few college campuses where I'd actually worry about being safe and comfortable as a queer person. Also historically minded people will remember the big civil rights case where the university tried to ban a gay student group. Really appreciated some faculty or staff being explicitly welcoming.
posted by Nelson at 8:35 AM on March 11, 2015

The University of Toronto 's positive space campaign was definitely a leader in this movement. It was North America's first, and started distributing stickers and posters in 1996.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:57 AM on March 11, 2015

Just saw the comment re: UNH, which may put the lie to the "North America's first" claim.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:59 AM on March 11, 2015

I distinctly remember my pleasant surprise upon seeing these during my grad school interviews at MIT in 2003. The ones I saw weren't designed like the ones in the article but they had the same intent. These stickers may have even had a (small) influence on my decision to go to MIT for my PhD, because it seemed reflective of the kind of inclusive, open place I wanted to be at.
posted by forza at 3:20 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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