This month’s Spotlight is on….The Rainbow Delegation.
On a quiet street in Clovis, behind a nondescript blue door, a grassroots movement is swelling. But this is a different sort of grassroots movement. It isn’t about changing the world, affecting public policy, or fighting for rights. At least, not directly. What it is about, however, is community building.
Matt Mazzei a grad student at Fresno state studying music, started the Rainbow Delegation last fall with the simple idea to give his friends a multi colored bracelet as a way of signaling their support for the LGBT community.
The bracelets were almost instantly popular, and more and more people started asking for them. In September, Matt started the website and began sending the rainbow bracelets to anyone who requested one, completely free of charge.
Eight months later, Matt and his volunteers have sent out 50,000 bracelets to 56 different countries. You can find baskets of them at the Fresno LGBT center, at booths at local events, handed out in clubs and outreach programs… but more noticeably, you will find them on the wrists of the counselors at Fresno State, on the wrists of hundreds of Pink Dot celebrators in Singapore, and on the wrist of Bianca “Nikki” Peet as she accepted her GLADD award last month. (Nikki even did a shout out to the Rainbow Delegation during her acceptance speech.)
(Photo courtesy of AllVoices.)
In other words, the project is going big time.
I met up with Matt at Rainbow Delegation headquarters earlier this month. Amid boxes of envelopes, tubs of bracelets, and stacks of flyers all ruled over by a laptop and its never ending stream of emails requesting bracelets, Matt and Holly (one of the many volunteers) prepared bracelets for mailing. Matt takes this operation seriously. He tries to make the whole process “as personal as possible” with hand written addresses on the envelopes, hand written notes on the enclosed flyer, and a personal response to the email request.
In the last eight months, Matt has learned a few things like how to cut postage costs by taping the bracelets flat so as to be able to go through a postage machine (resulting in the cost being of a regular stamp instead of the $1.22 parcel post fee).
There are, of course, challenges facing the Rainbow Delegation, Daunting challenges that include: the sheer number of requests (a few hundred a day), the cost of the postage, the cost of the envelopes, and the time it takes to answer all the requests. Another issue is message of the bracelet.
“This is about being an ally, Matt says over and over, “This isn’t about being gay, it isn’t about Pride. It is about supporting the community whether you are in it or not.”
That might be why it is so popular. Wearing a bracelet to support a cause or a fundraiser hit a tipping point a few years back, but these simple messages of support are gaining popularity at an almost alarming rate. There is a high chance that The Advocate will be spotlighting the Rainbow Delegation in its next issue which will most likely mean an onslaught of requests.
Matt is, understandably, nervous about the future and the ability to continue to provide the bracelets to anyone who requests them.
“No one should have to pay, I want them to be assessable to everyone,“ Matt says slipping a bracelet into an envelope headed to New Zealand, “As long as I can do that, I’ll be happy.”
Matt always needs volunteers and financial donations are also highly appreciated.
Ultimately, the hard work is worth it. “My favorite story is about a high school student who wrote to me and told me hw afraid they were to come out,” Matt holds up a bracelet and smiles as he talks, “But they saw other kids in their school wearing the bracelets and they knew that there were allies there, that they weren’t alone.”
Knowing that there is support, even if it is small, can be essential to feeling safe to come out. In today’s atmosphere of bullying and fear, especially in highly conservative areas, these bracelets are small beacon of hope.