Project Safe Zone: What Students Say
My eyes were doing that thing — you know, the one where the edges of vision fade to a blur and a foreign liquid precipitates on the lower eyelid. My forehead ached with the tension of the day’s emotional tasks. I frowned when I saw the statistics of teenage suicide, heard stories of parents disowning homosexual children, felt the anguish of whole lives repressed.
None of those frowns stuck, however; I had assumed beforehand that Project Safe Zone (PSZ) would expose me to upsetting anecdotes. But, what did stick was the frown that wrinkled my brow upon seeing, in black pen, “fags” written on the PSZ poster. This poster had been used to direct participants to the South Gym, and was only exposed to the Samo campus for less than an hour. For some, this poster may have served as a symbol of resiliency: the leaders of PSZ displayed the poster proudly in a prominent, defiant position on the wall, as if saying, “Sticks and stones may break our bones but words can never hurt us.” For me, it served first as a rude awakening, and then, as the day went on, a cruel reminder.
Before I saw that poster, I lived in ignorance. I assumed that liberal Santa Monica was immune from homophobia. Sure, we joke around and say, “No homo,” or, “That’s gay,” but we don’t actually mean it. It’s not like any of us is one of those people on the news holding a “God hates gays” sign. Then “fags” slapped me across the cheek. I started thinking. How many people had said, “Why are you going to PSZ?” or, “Hell no I’m not doing that”? Maybe everything isn’t so sunny and gay in open-minded Santa Monica.
But, from the participants at PSZ, one would never suspect homophobia is an issue at Samo. A poll revealed that participants were extremely accepting, and all guest speakers received an overwhelmingly warm response. Therein lies the flaw of PSZ: it was too good—the organizers were too successful in constructing what literally was a safe zone. I got so confident in the tolerance of my peers that it took constant looks at the vandalized poster to remind myself that this safe zone was not real. Every time the discussion reached a warm, fuzzy moment, “fags” was there to sting my cheek and remind me that the safe zone ended at the threshold of the South Gym.
Others are still reveling in blissful ignorance. The greatest obstacle preventing us from overcoming our homophobia and sexism is our refusal to acknowledge their existence. For this, I continue to frown, and will not stop until our entire campus is a safe zone—not just the South Gym for 12 hours, one day a year. - Sam Bleiberg, Class of 2010