Creating “safe spaces” on high school and college campuses not only helps students feel more secure emotionally, they help students feel physically safer.
Caryn Bird, an English teacher at Glendale Community College became involved by co-sponsoring the Gay Straight Alliance Club at a high school she used to teach at. Now, she is the newly elected co-chair of the board of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. She said LGBTQ+ groups contribute to a healthier school environment.
“It’s important because we still live in a world where folks who live under the moniker LGBTQ+, whatever it may be, still face a lot of discrimination and still face a lot of potential feathering,” she said. “Having spaces where students can not only feel supported but also, create points of contact where they’re not so isolated or alone, they can see representations of themselves.”
“I realized these students just want to live their lives and get an education,” Bird said. “In order to learn, you got to feel safe as a LGBTQ+ youth. When students feel safe at school, they’re able to then be successful.”
GLSEN’s Safe Schools Professional Development program aims to teach educators how to become allies to LGBTQ+ students through professional development workshops and national conferences.
“We want to make sure that we’re not just slapping a sticker on something, but really giving people the background, training and knowledge of what it means to be inclusive, what it means to create spaces for students to feel comfortable and what it means to really foster an environment where that takes place,” Bird said
According to Bird, creating a safe space requires time and effort. “It’s not just about tolerating folks,” she said. “Tolerance doesn’t necessarily make us feel safe. That affirmation of ‘You are who you are and I affirm you.’ is really one of the pieces that matters.”
“The work GLSEN is doing not only benefits LGBTQ+ students,” Bird said. “It benefits all students because when LGBTQ+ students feel safe on campus, other students also have increased feelings of safety. It’s incredibly rewarding because we directly see the impact and know that we can make a difference.”
Confetti, Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus LGBTQ+ student group, has a similar purpose.
“We are all about having a safe space for people who have or have not come out to their family yet,” said Jessica Morales, an ASU student and Confetti member. “We are trying to educate the community about us and all of our gender types.”
Morales defines a safe space as a place where an individual isn’t judged for who they are, what they do or what specific pronouns they go by. It’s a place where people can feel comfortable being themselves completely.
“We’re for the people who haven’t come out yet and we’re trying to create a safe space for them,” Morales said. “So when they’re ready to come out, they have support behind them and anything that they do.”
Christina Molina, a public health major at ASU, says Confetti has greatly affected her ASU experience.
“I came from a small town where resources weren’t really available and it was really taboo to go to an LGBT club,” Molina said. “I thought it would be really good in boosting my confidence in who I am.”
Students gathered for the “Coming Out Day Celebration,” a joint event hosted by Confetti and the Undergraduate Student Government, to celebrate National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.
“Coming out can be a really hard experience for a lot of people and it can be life changing,” Molina said. “I think just having a day where you know everybody’s going through the same thing gives you the confidence to come out to the people who matter the most to you. I think it’s kind of a staple day in our communities where everybody can come together and be vulnerable with each other like that.”
“We’re here, we’re queer and it’s totally okay,” Molina said. “So just be who you are and have no shame. Life is too short to have shame.”