OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – When Garrett Potokar, a sophomore at Weber State University, was considering coming out, he didn’t know where to turn. The North Ogden native says he grew up in a very religious household, and though he loves and respects those with strong faiths, some elements of the doctrine made him feel isolated and afraid when he was considering his seuxality.
“You never know what spaces are safe, who you can talk to. You really feel like there is nowhere to really turn,” Potokar remembers. “It is a terrifying realization.”
Luckily, at the same time Potokar was coming to terms with his sexuality, he was working for the Weber School District at Silver Ridge Elementary. There, he met a librarian that eased his fear and apprehension and made him feel accepted and safe to come out.
“It was the safe space where even I, as a faculty member, was able to open up and really start to accept who I am,” he remembers. “
And now that Potokar has experienced firsthand what such an environment can do, he’s made it his mission to create similar opportunities for others.
This year, he’s made a momentous step by accepting — and working to create — the position of WSU’s first student senator representing the LGBTQ+ community.
Last year, during the COVID-prompted period of remote learning, Potokar was looking for more ways to be involved as a freshman at the school. He began doing graphic design work for the WSU Student Association, and soon noticed that — while the group had representatives from a very comprehensive list of student groups, organizations, and diverse on-campus identities — they were missing a key voice.
“I quickly saw that there wasn’t a ton of queer representation, especially within the Student Association,” Potokar says.
He started working to create an LGBTQ senate chair position, but says the project was difficult to launch due to the online nature of things at the time. However, when on-campus learning became possible again, the WSUSA quickly adopted his cause. Starting this year, they are now operating under a revised the constitution — one where students can self-identify as an LGBTQ constituent or ally.
And once it was official — and Potokar was named as the first to hold the momentous position — he hit the ground running. In his first two weeks in his new role, he passed two pieces of legislation, one which streamlined and decodified the process for name and pronoun changes within the university, and one which consolidates and aggregates LGBTQ resources on the university’s website.
“Currently LGBT resources are all over the place, and they’re really difficult to find,” he explains. “[This legislation works toward] consolidating Weber State’s website and making so there’s one main webpage where you can find these resources.”
Now he’s working on a third project, too, which would provide more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
“That way, non-binary and questioning individuals have safer spaces, specifically here in the shepherd Union Building, because it’s kind of the center of campus and there’s only one gender-neutral bathroom and it’s very tucked away.”
And outside of WSU, too, Potokar hopes he can make a difference in urging Utah as a whole to be more accepting and welcoming of the LGBTQ community.
“Representation matters on such a personal level for everyone across the state,” he says. “You’re not just fighting for those who are loud and proud, you’re fighting for your brothers and sisters and people you might not ever meet or know. And that’s what makes a world of difference.”