Coming to NYU was a daunting move. We’re talking 6,000 plus incoming freshman in the class of 2020 — the largest to date in NYU history. Living in New York City was even more intimidating, with 1.6 million neighbors at my Third Avenue North Residence Hall doorstep. With such a populous landscape as my stomping grounds, I worried about my safety as a wide-eyed 18-year-old trans- plant. However, walking these age-old streets as a gay man was something I never lost sleep over. A broken iPhone and devastated confidence later, my sense of safety was defeated as I was verbally and physically assaulted on an everyday walk home from work in Chelsea.
Having grown up in rural Mississippi, homophobic slurs were nothing shocking. Having worked in the highly LGBTQ-populated neighborhood of Chelsea, the word was, indeed, shocking and then some.
I felt betrayed by my city — the same city NY Daily News claimed as being “a mecca for gay and gender-variant youth.” It was NYU and a rainbow arch that conversely amended this sense of safety, and, eventually, sense of self.
The rainbow arch, otherwise known as NYU’s Safe Zone, is “a campus-wide program designed to visibly identify students, staff and faculty peers who support the LGBTQ population, understand some of the issues facing LGBTQ and are aware of the various LGBTQ resources.”
Marked by a rainbow arch printed on cardstock and a reaffirming “this identifies so-and-so as someone with understanding towards LGBTQ issues and concerns,” Safe Zone markers are placed around campus to offer havens for victims similar to myself, among a multitude of other resources. I soon noticed these arches all around me, specifically, in three of my professor’s offices and even my adviser’s.
Surrounded by a support system of hundreds of students and professors, I never lose sleep over having to deal with blatant intolerance alone again. In the country’s most populous city, NYU Safe Zones makes NYC feel like the aforementioned mecca, where I cannot only exist peacefully, but thrive triumphantly.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email Ryan Mikel at [email protected]