PLATTSBURGH — The Trevor Project was formed in 1998 as a lifeline and support network for struggling LGBTQ+ youth.
Today, they serve as a guiding educational force in teaching tolerance, suicide prevention, advocacy and allyship.
According to The Trevor Project’s website, over 40% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months. This harrowing statistic shows a true need for representation of queer youth and the issues that community faces.
Plattsburgh local Brian Shanksy-Baker, and his wife Danielle Baker, have brought the altruism of the Trevor Project to the Northcountry through a Facebook donation, and most importantly with a 455 picket rainbow-painted fence outside of their house.
“It started because I wanted to do something for pride month. It was June and all the pride parades had been canceled and everything was sort of shut down,” Shanksy-Baker said. “Both myself and Danielle have a direct connection to LGBTQ+ youth through our professions and this has affected us greatly. So I think it was just the perfect organization to donate to.”
Shanksy-Baker is an elementary school music teacher, and his wife is a nurse practitioner.
The Facebook fundraiser’s original monetary goal was $455, which represented the amount of pickets.
“The fundraiser surpassed roughly three times the amount that was the original goal,” Shanksy-Baker said.
The task of painting the fence took Shanksy-Baker about two months, and many cans of spray paint.
“I also put some names on there. Some people who donated opted to, if they have people in their lives who are LGBTQ+ who are alive or not, they wanted me to put their names on the fence,” Shanksy-Baker said.
The fence wraps around the couple’s South Plattsburgh house, and reminds passerbys of joyous things, such as a box filled with crayons. In between the traditional posts of ROYGBIV are black and brown pickets. The horizontal supports on the back of the fence are also painted, giving the look of individual posts holding hands or being connected in unity and solidarity. The addition of black and brown is the most recent version of the pride flag, according to Shanksy-Baker.
“We thought it was sort of timely given the circumstances. I did a little research on the variations of the flag,” he said.
Madelyn McGrath, a friend of the Shanksy-Baker family, states that a lot of people honk and yell from their cars that they love the fence.
“People are always in support of it. Everyday, there’s lots of people honking all the time. We’ve never had any negative comments,” she said.
The fence also fits into the 518 Rainbow trend started during the pandemic shutdown to show love and support to essential workers.
“I didn’t really know what to expect. You know, I always think the worst, like someone’s going to trash it. There are those people obviously. But for the most part, people around here have been super supportive,” Shanksy-Baker said.
“The Trevor Project” is painted on the part of the fence that’s most prominent from the road. Although the Facebook fundraiser has since been closed, people can still discover this resource and donate to it as they learn about it.
As a teacher, Shansky-Baker actively seeks to create an accepting environment in his classroom, and to foster a sense of equality among his young students.
“I certainly hope through modeling my own view on tolerance in the classroom helps. I certainly don’t tolerate any sort of behavior that would disparage anybody in my class,” he said.
Above all, the fence symbolizes hope in a world that is scary and uncertain.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there that don’t have any support. It’s frustrating because the system does not support them,” Shanksy-Baker said. “I hope that anyone who feels like they’re alone can reach out and find safety and comfort in the people who care. There is hope, and I want the fence to be sort of a message and a symbol of that,” Shanksy-Baker said.
To access resources and information, make a donation to The Trevor Project, or speak to someone through the TrevorLifeline, visit thetrevorproject.org.
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