An unsigned note printed on color paper hung taped on a church room wall — an anonymous writer reaching out to an anonymous recipient, saying that everything would be all right.

Stand back and there were hundreds more covering the other walls and windows. The Rev. Sarah Beck transferred them from hundreds of emails she received to create the encouraging mosaic.

The notes spoke to the drop-ins at the Rainbow Coffee House, a weekly hangout for LGBT teens to have snacks, play games and share stories.

Beck sent out a call for supportive notes last week, around Nov. 8. Most of the teens at the Rainbow are too young to vote, but the election left some feeling anxious.

"It was a hard week, and there was some fear among lots of people," Beck said.

A couple days after Beck solicited notes, words of comfort rolled in. They came from Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Texas and elsewhere. So Beck printed and hung them, and on Thursday teens started arriving for the weekly evening social.

The Rainbow Coffee House started in January. Beck said she and a couple others wanted to have a place for LGBT teens to be themselves and, above all, feel safe. Anywhere from five to 25 teens have showed up each week since.


The Rainbow is a small room at the end of a hallway at Grace United Methodist Church, 1935 Avenue B. It's a colorful room with low, warm light. On Thursday, soda and half-and-half sat iced in a bowl. Oranges and candy sat in others, and the coffee was hot.

"Every Thursday, we try to start and end with circle time," said Rhiannon Schiller, volunteer coordinator. The Rainbow runs on volunteer labor and donated supplies.

Circle time is introductory for visitors and a time for anyone to speak their mind — about school, Rainbow Coffee House events and life. Teens can be candid.

Above all, it's been both supported and successful, said Daniel Mehrens-Wallace, who chairs the leadership team. The Rainbow organizers met with Queer-Straight Alliance groups, as well as Billings high school and college students to conceive the project.

Adult volunteers are screened and trained before becoming chaperones at the Rainbow. There are about 20 such volunteers so far.

"I think the biggest struggle we've faced is trying to get the word out while keeping people safe," Mehrens-Wallace said.

And over the past 11 months, the Rainbow hasn't faced much pushback. There were no angry congregation members, but there have been giving individuals, Beck said.

Likewise, the Rainbow's aim isn't to fill the church's pews on Sunday. Schiller said she surveyed the kids about past experiences with churches, and many had negative responses. The Rainbow is just a friendly place to go on Thursdays.

"For me, I'm happy that the kids come here and feel safe," Beck said, "when you think of a lot of ways the church has been a hurtful place."

The institutions have long been exclusive of the LGBT community, though it's certainly no longer universal. Grace United Methodist works with other Billings churches that support the Rainbow. Hosting it at a church itself is a statement, Mehrens-Wallace said.


On Tuesday, the Pride Foundation awarded a grant to the Rainbow Coffee House. Beck said they'll try to host more events and spruce up the room a bit with the funds.

On Saturday, the Rainbow will host a Day of Remembrance for transgender people who've been killed. They plan to light candles for each name of someone who was killed for his or her identity. It's at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

Beck hopes to keep the Rainbow running for as many Thursdays as possible. It's often a casual place to socialize, and the volunteers said that's because it's a place where identities don't need to be skewed.

"I think a lot of them go the entire week pretending to be someone else," Mehrens-Wallace said.

And that's what many of the color-paper notes on the walls say. Be yourself. You're loved. Some of the notes share personal stories.

Beck said some of the teens at the Rainbow took down notes and took them home to keep.

"Everyone on this earth needs you for who you are," one note said.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.