Flashes Come Out and Celebrate – With Pride

On the day Kent State’s 'Flashes of Pride' poster comes out, so do some Kent State students

October 11 is National Coming Out Day. It is a significant and emotional day for the LGBTQ+ community across the country and at Kent State. It is also the day the Kent State LGBTQ+ Center unveils its “Flashes of Pride” poster, which shows the names, faces, majors and class years of some members of the Kent State LGBTQ+ community, along with their pronouns and how they identify.  

October is LGBTQ History Month, but the annual unveiling of the poster on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, is intentional.  

For some of the students included in the poster, being one of the “Flashes of Pride” is part of their "coming out" process. Charlie Simecek (they/them) from Solon, Ohio, is a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in LGBTQ studies.  

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Charlie Simicek (they/them), senior psychology major/LGBTQ studies minor.
“I really liked that we picked today to do this,” Simecek said. “It shows how everyone on this poster is out and proud, and someone who isn’t out and proud can see them and think that they will get there, if they would like to, and that they have representation, and see that they could go on a poster.”  

Helping people connect 
Simecek also sees the poster's value in helping people make connections on campus. They noted that, to them, it feels like people are separated into their own area of campus by departments, majors and minors. “I feel that people can really know if they’re in a class and they see someone on this poster among the people in their big 300-seat lecture, they can come up to them if they need support or anything, and just to make a new friend on campus, even.” 

Simecek is part of this year’s poster and will graduate in December. “It’s my last semester here, so I wanted to make a lasting impression on this, the seventh edition of the ‘Flashes of Pride’ poster,” they said. 

The poster unveiling event was well-attended by members of Kent State's LGBTQ+ community and allies on campus. People appearing on the poster were invited to sign a copy that will be displayed at the LGBTQ+ Center. There was a feeling of joy, unity and, of course, pride at the gathering. Rainbow-themed cookies, fresh fruit, cheese and lemonade were served. 

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People appearing on the poster were invited to sign their photos.

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Rainbow-themed cookies and other refreshments were served.
The birth of the poster 
Ken Ditlevson, B.A. '95, M.Ed. '98, is the director of Kent State’s LGBTQ+ Center. He said he borrowed the idea from other colleges which had created similar posters. He knew that Kent State had a strong LGBTQ+ community and thought having the same kind of poster here made sense. “I don’t know if other colleges do it or not, but we decided that we would always do it in October, which is LGBTQ History Month and also has the coming out day,” Ditlevson said.  

Robert Christy, B.S. ’95, photographer and new media specialist in Kent State’s University Communications and Marketing Department, has been capturing images for this poster from the very beginning. When he met Ditlevson, they shared a bond in that both of their brothers had recently died, and Christy’s deceased brother was also named Ken. “My brother was gay, and I know what a hard time he had going through life hiding his true self,” said Christy. “So, in memory of my brother and all of the struggles he went through, I see the act of shooting the poster every year and meeting the students, faculty and staff who pose for the photo as kind of an honor to the memory of my brother,” he said.  

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Ken Ditlevson, director of Kent State's LGBTQ+ Center.
 ‘For some people, this is their coming out story.’ 
“They’ve decided that they’re ready to take that step. So, for some students, it truly is a ‘coming out’ poster," Ditlevson said. "But for a lot of other folks, it’s just them taking that step, with taking a big risk in some ways because we print 3,000 copies of this poster and they go everywhere – to all our regional campuses, to local businesses in downtown Kent and all over campus, to every department,” he said. “It’s really coming out even for the people who are already out, to be a part of this.” 

Community members and allies 
 Each year, the poster also includes faces and names of LGBTQ allies on campus, but now fewer than there were in the past. “We used to have more allies on the poster and, quite honestly, we got a lot of feedback from students who asked ‘why are you putting allies on the poster? There’s no risk for an ally to be on the poster. There’s a lot of risk for an LGBTQ+ person to be on the poster,’” said Ditlevson. “So, we decided that from here on out, we would accept allies, so long as there’s room for them on the poster.” This year, there are two allies on the poster.  

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The poster event was well-attended by members of Kent State's LGBTQ+ community and allies.

He said he loves how the poster shows visibility in pride and even though its annual launch is on National Coming Out Day, the poster is meant to be displayed for the entire year. “I love the idea because when we have prospective students and their families that come through, it’s not just on October 11 that they see the poster. They see it year-round,” Ditleveson said.  

Looking back over Rainbow Weekend 
On the weekend before National Coming Out Day, the city of Kent had a Rainbow Weekend, organized by Main Street Kent. Ditlevson was part of the planning committee. The weekend began with the Rainbow Run, a 5K run around the Kent Campus that is a fundraiser for Kent State's LGBTQ+ Emergency Fund, which helps students in crisis.  
 
Through the rain and chilly weather, the run had nearly 200 participants and was followed by an “End of the Rainbow” dance party at North Water Brewing Company. Other events included a safe space training session, conducted by Ditlevson; a panel discussion by religious leaders about how to have an inclusive congregation; and a panel discussion by PFLAG, an organization of parents and families who support the LGBTQ+ community.  
 
A welcoming experience 
There was also a Rainbow Weekend bar crawl, arts and crafts, and activities for families. Kent’s downtown businesses welcomed attendees with specials and rainbow-decorated stores. “I visited some of the businesses and it is just heartwarming to see families coming down, bringing their kids and showing people what inclusion looks like,” said Ditlevson. “These kids and their families were having fun, and not just heterosexual couples with their kids, we saw lots of lesbian couples, lots of gay couples that had kids. And for them to know that they can come to a downtown community in a safe environment and really be embraced is just really heartwarming to me.” 

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Volunteers decorated Kent's Main Street Bridge in rainbow colors.
Kent’s rainbow bridge 
On the Thursday before Rainbow Weekend, volunteers came together to decorate Kent’s landmark stone bridge on Main Street, spanning the Cuyahoga River. They used long, plastic streamers to decorate one side of the bridge in rainbow colors and the other side in the colors of the trans pride flag. Community volunteers coming together to decorate the bridge has become a tradition for the event.  

“For me, the next day, to see families and students going there to get their photos taken: It’s what I love about Kent,” said Ditlevson. “That feeling of community and valuing diversity. I’m really proud of how the weekend went and looking forward to next year’s to make it even better.”  

To learn more about Kent State's LGBTQ+ Center, visit https://www.kent.edu/lgbtq.

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One side of Kent's Main Street bridge was decorated in the colors of the trans pride flag.

POSTED: Friday, October 14, 2022 12:00 AM
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 21, 2024 04:40 PM
WRITTEN BY:
Phil B. Soencksen