A Toronto high school has decided to turn their student lounge into a “Positive/Safe Space” room for LGBTQ students to feel safe. The Toronto School District says the initiative will be in every elementary, middle and high school by the end of 2012. Each of the rooms will be staffed by a trained volunteer teacher and offers the student body a space to not only feel safe, but also to have real conversations about homophobia and gender discrimination.
The initiative was created as a result of a 2007 school shooting where a report pointed out the necessity for students to have a place to go when they feel unsafe. The goal is to help foster a community where students feel comfortable speaking up.
The initial idea does seem like a good one and the school district must be thanked for attempting to find solutions and support for LGBTQ youth. The high school where the safe classroom is piloting also placed signs on each door indicating that while there is a specific room that is safe for LGBTQ-related issues, every room in the school is a safe place.
Placing signs on every door is an important detail. The last thing anyone would want would be to target LGBTQ youth or allies of such youth for entering or leaving the “safe” classroom. The message needs to be clear: making the school environment unsafe for anyone will not be tolerated.
Understanding the effectiveness of a safe classroom might prove difficult. Perhaps conversation is generated in the safe room about particular areas of discrimination within the school. Will the school/s be equipped to actually deal with the problems that are placed on the table? Will students who are targeted feel comfortable to utilize the classroom? Will gay students feel isolated?
Whether the school is immediately equipped to handle situations that arise isn’t a reason to avoid the project. In fact, it indicates the importance of the safe space. If the school isn’t equipped for a particular issue, their awareness of it will make school officials better prepared in the event it becomes an issue again or give them time to address how to better serve LGBTQ youth.
The question that then becomes an issue is the debate between integration and isolation. The signs of zero tolerance on each classroom door is an excellent way to integrate a safe LGBTQ environment at school, but does creating a separate space for gay students isolate them even further? We don’t see specific classrooms for Latino students or “women only” classrooms.
Perhaps the difference lies in social norms of discrimination. Marginalized communities definitely need support, but it would be very unlikely that someone would make the argument that a child shouldn’t have been born with a particular nationality or assigned gender. No one can debate the identity of a person born Latino or born a woman (assuming she identifies as such).
Fundamentally, many people still consider homosexuality a choice. A phase. And because homosexuality is equated as a choice, it is easy to pass off as nothing more than a crazy idea such as dying hair purple or getting tattoos.
Recognizing gay students as who they are and making a space safe for that particular identity is fundamental in changing the institutional belief system within schools. Whether students actually use the space regularly or not, it is great that they have this option. They know their school wants to support them. And bullies know this is no longer an acceptable outlet for aggression.
What do you think? Is it too isolating? What are some ways we can create safe LGBTQ school environments?
Photo by: Aprilzosia
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