'A Supportive Community Makes It a Lot Easier'

Colorful and fun events in Kent this week have serious positive impact in the LGBTQ+ community

It's a rainbow week at Kent State University, with a full schedule of LGBTQ +events on campus and in downtown Kent. Events in Kent State's Honors College and the university's LGBTQ+ Center around National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) lead to the city of Kent's big Rainbow Weekend (Oct. 13-14) and the LGBTQ+ Center's annual Rainbow Run (Oct. 13). 

Ken Ditlevson decorating the Main Street Bridge for Rainbow Weekend

These events are fun and serve to educate and create awareness but also offer important support for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Kent State's LGBTQ+ Emergency Fund, for example, was established to help LGBTQ+ students at Kent State who may have been disowned and cut off financially by their parents after coming out, or are suffering other hardships. Ken Ditlevson, director of Kent State's LGBTQ+ Center said that the fund is at a "critically low" level right now. He said that while there is no set fundraising goal for this year's Rainbow Run, he hopes to match or exceed last year's total of $5,000. 

rainbow run 5k 2019 group photo

Flash, the Kent State mascot, joins Rainbow Run participants in this glowing image from a past year's event. 

The fund has been in existence for 10 years and each year, this fund helps about 50 students. The center wants to maintain fundraising at a high level so they don't have to turn anyone away. "That emergency fund has kept students engaged in their college goals and working toward graduation," said Ditlevson. "For many students, they would not have reached graduation if not for that support."

Kent State LGBTQ+ Center Director Ken Ditlevson talks about the importance of National Coming Out Day and the urgency of maintaining the LGBTQ+ Emergency Fund. 

National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day is Wednesday, Oct. 11. Originating in California in 1988, National Coming Out Day was celebrated regionally, at first. The event gained media attention in 1990 and was then observed in all 50 U.S. states and seven countries. 

Ditlevson said that this day is an important recognition of the bravery behind people taking the step of publicly acknowledging that they are part of the LGBTQ+ community. "There are a lot of risks associated with that," he said."Sometimes people face family rejection or friends that turn their backs on them. Some people lose jobs or lose housing."

A tease of this year's Flashes of Pride poster.

The reveal of this year's Flashes of Pride Poster is celebrated at an annual National Coming Out Day event at Kent State's LGBTQ+ Center.

"So having a point in time that we can recognize this incredible act and the bravery that this takes for some people, but also acknowledging that there are real reasons that some people may never come out," said Ditlevson. "So, we're not here to say that everyone has to come out or when the perfect time is because that's individualized. Every single person has the time that's going to be right for them, if that time ever exists."

Each year on National Coming Out Day, the LGBTQ+ Center unveils its new "Flashes of Pride Poster," featuring members of Kent State's LGBTQ+ community and allies. This year, for the first time, they had more volunteers to appear on the poster – 62 of them – than they had space to accommodate on the poster. "It's a good problem to have," said Ditlevson. The annual poster usually features 32 people, but was expanded to include 45 this year. 

Flashes of Pride Posters from the past several years

A collection of Flashes of Pride Posters from previous years hangs on a wall in Ditlevson's office. Larger, framed versions are displayed in the main area of the LGBTQ+ Center.

Coming Out at Kent State 

Students coming to Kent State and, for some of them, living away from home for the first time can struggle with the transition. The transition can even be more difficult for LGBTQ+ students, particularly for those who have recently "come out." Ditlevson stressed the value of having a supportive environment, like the the one at Kent State, where there are resources like an LGBTQ+ Center, an area of study with an LGBTQ minor and a significant number of LGBTQ student organizations. "Having lots of outlets where people can find a supportive community, in a supportive environment makes it a lot easier," said Ditlevson. "It makes things a lot easier for students to take that step to find a supportive friend that they can acknowledge this piece of themselves to." 

Ken Ditlevson decorating the Main Street Bridge for Rainbow Weekend


POSTED: Tuesday, October 10, 2023 04:02 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2024 11:53 AM
Phil B. Soencksen