The City of Appleton celebrated a National Coming Out Day by flying the rainbow flag, which represents LGBTQ pride, at City Hall, and by welcoming Milwaukee-based Diverse and Resilient to its new office at 408 ½ West Wisconsin Ave.
It was a gray, rainy day, but that didn’t damper the spirits of those celebrating the day designated for LGBTQ people to share their identity with friends and family.
“We put the flag up (at City Hall),” said City of Appleton Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator Karen Nelson. “The skies parted and the rains stopped just in time for the flag to go up completely dry. It was a beautiful, beautiful sight to be a part of that historic moment for the city of Appleton. This is important to do because the visibility is where we can provide the empowerment as allies to the LGBTQ community to say it’s okay. We can educate ourselves, we can educate each other. What better way to do that than actually displaying the flag on city hall.”
Nelson said about 90 businesses along Wisconsin Avenue and College Avenue displayed rainbow flags to celebrate the day.
“The rainbow flag it is a reminder of the unity of our community and the way that we come together in our community and driving up and down Wisconsin and College Avenues,” said Diverse and Resilient Anti-Violence Program Director Kathy Flores. “It’s just so great to see those flags. It brings a tear to my eyes.”
Flores, who spent seven years in the position Nelson now holds, hosted a press conference at the new Diverse & Resilient office on West Wisconsin — the first office outside of Milwaukee.
“We could open an office probably in every part of the state within the need is so great, but we picked Appleton mainly because of the strong support system already here for LGBTQ survivors,” Flores said. “In the sense of our local domestic violence and sexual violence programs and those advocacy programs. But violence in Northeast Wisconsin is on the rise.”
Flores said Diverse & Resilient had surveyed 951 LGBTQ people, and 79 percent reported having experienced some form of violence — online harassment, hate crimes, domestic abuse. And 87 percent said they wanted an LGBTQ advocate to help them deal with that violence afterward.
“LGBTQ survivors deserve to have their own space that’s welcoming,” she said. “And the city of Appleton has embraced us and the city of Appleton is changing so rapidly and quickly and we’re so grateful that they’ve opened their arms to us.”
Flores said the Diverse & Resilient office in Appleton will provide response services through a “warm line” at 414-856-LGBT.
“ We call it a warm line because when you only have one staff member it can’t exactly be a hotline because she needs to sleep sometimes,” Flores said with a laugh.
In addition to that immediate advocacy in times of need, the Diverse & Resilient office will partner with other local organizations to provide regular programming.
“We’re going to be partnering with the Refuge Foundation to provide monthly programming that is focused on healing through the arts,” Flores said. “Whether that’s singer-songwriter, whether that’s poetry, whatever that looks like. We will be helping design that to be dedicated to survivors.”
Flores also stressed that Diverse & Resilient services can remain confidential.
“We recognize that not everybody is safe to be out. So there are kids who are going to be listening, there are kids who are going to be reading stories (about National Coming Out Day), who may not be able to be safe to be out in their own homes,” Flores said. “And we want them to know that we’re here for them too. This is completely confidential space so people don’t have to be out to be able to use our space.”
Flores said despite the welcome the City of Appleton has given her organization and LGBTQ people generally, she does expect some resistance from anti-LGBT forces.
“I’ve dealt with resistance my whole career and I’m not afraid of it,” she said. “We choose to just ignore it and focus on serving our survivors. So you know what bullies really want is attention, and we’re going to refuse to give them any kind of attention.”
Finishing touches are still being put on the Diverse & Resilient office, which will officially open with an open house on October 28.