CREATING SAFE SPACES
What is a safe space?
The term “safe space” refers to the creation of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or cultural spaces in which people can feel comfortable, respected, and valued for who they are regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Examples of safe spaces can include Pride centers, LGBT* centres, healthy relationships, and countries in which marriage equality is mandated by law. Rainbow stickers, buttons, and signs are often used to indicate that a physical space (such as a shop or business) is safe for gender and sexually diverse people.
What does it mean to display a safe space sticker or ally button?
Both symbols mean that you have made a conscious choice to support people who are gender and sexually diverse. This means that you will work to make the space where the sticker is displayed—whether your workplace, your school, or your home—free of homophobia, heteronormativity, and sexism. By wearing an ally button you are showing your personal support and commitment to something as big as taking a stand against injustice or as private as providing peer support to someone going through a difficult time.
Why is it important for me to create a safe space?
Homophobia and homonegativity affect everyone. They create negative environments where LGBT* people feel isolated, belittled, ignored, judged, and victimized for being who they are. These experiences often lead to issues with low self-esteem, depression, self-harm, suicide, risky behavior, and health concerns. Youth are particularly at risk for violence from the effects of homophobia as nearly two-thirds of GSD youth report feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation and that 40% feel unsafe because of their gender expression (GLSEN, 2010). GLSEN states that “anti-LGBT bullying leads to absenteeism, lower grades, reduced self-esteem and, in too many cases, depression and suicide.” Creating a safe space means creating safety and acceptance for those who experience fear, bullying, and/or violence.
Does homophobia affect me if I’m heterosexual?
Yes. Homophobia generates a climate where all people in the space feel the need to perpetuate gender stereotypes—the roles of men must always be masculine and the roles of women must always be feminine. These stereotypes create an atmosphere in which gender identity and expression is very rigid and limiting; if someone does not fit neatly or tightly into the two boxes society has created—regardless of whether or not they’re cisgender or straight—they may be singled out for ridicule, bullying, or bashing.
It’s about respect!
It is very important to encourage respect for all people. Gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and ability must not determine our levels of respect. By promoting a safe space at your workplace or school, you are helping to create safe and respectful environments.
How can I create safe spaces for gender and sexually diverse people?
- Wear an ally button or display a positive space sticker. This will let people know that you are a safe person to talk to. It will also show others that you are supportive of a healthy and safe workplace for all gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations.
- Refuse to participate in homo/bi/transphobic jokes or discussions. Phrases such as “that’s so gay” or referring to someone as an “it” are very offensive. If you hear inappropriate things like this in your workplace or school, say something or report it to an authority figure. Remember that silence for many people means acceptance, and taking a stand against such behavior goes far in creating a safer space.
- Do not make assumptions. Not everyone is heterosexual and presuming that everyone is creates an environment of isolation and alienation. Likewise, do not use stereotypes of femininity and masculinity to “guess” someone’s sexual orientation when encountering people at work or school.
- Practice inclusion. When partners and significant others are invited to various events at the workplace, make sure it includes ALL significant others. The same goes for functions like school dances, sporting events, and fundraisers.
- Be careful not to “out” others. If someone confides their sexual orientation or gender identity to you in private, keep it a secret. Not everyone wants their personal lives to be known by their coworkers and classmates and it is important to respect that privacy.
- Participate in community events. Go to Pride events and other causes and discussions related to gender and sexual diversity. Your voice and presence as an ally is a very powerful statement—keep it loud and proud!
- Be an advocate for change. Keep up-to-date on LGBT* causes and issues. Get involved in committees, go to public discussions, and attend protests. Write to your elected officials and educate yourself about what is going on. For example, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) have been doing important work as allies for years. Find your local PFLAG chapter and get involved! More information can be found at the following website: http://www.pflagcanada.ca/en/index.html
- Encourage others to become allies. When helping to create safe spaces for others, one of the best ways to do so is by having discussions about why you are an ally. People may say things like, “If it doesn’t affect then you why do it?” and “Aren’t we all already equal?”
Both being an ally and the work of creating safe spaces recognizes that there is more work to be done. Choose to take a stand against injustice and ignorance and to be a part of positive social change!
For more information about how to create safe spaces, please see: