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Toronto School Creates “Safe Space” Classroom for LGBT Support; Does it Isolate Gay Students?

Toronto School Creates “Safe Space” Classroom for LGBT Support; Does it Isolate Gay Students?

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?


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Photo by: Aprilzosia

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4:22PM PDT on May 16, 2011

Does it hurt to try? In the end, it is up to the LGBTQ students to decide what is best for each of them.

9:32PM PDT on May 15, 2011

Shouldn't all school property be "safe"? Separate but equal doesn't work.

8:32PM PDT on May 11, 2011

Special treatment for a minority . Again !

6:50PM PDT on May 10, 2011

Isolating is definitely not the right solution.

2:55PM PDT on May 10, 2011

Segregation is not a good idea, for any reason. Educating people/students in tollerance is the solution for long-term success.

2:52PM PDT on May 10, 2011

exactly like Liz Edwards says.

also, i was in the same boat as brian - from a different culture in my case - and know all about discrimination and harassment.

another thing to consider: would the "safe room" not herd all the targeted kids into one coral, so much easier to identify and pick future victims from?

in high school i had a sort of a friend that in retrospect would have been a lesbian, but it was never discussed. we were both shunned and hung around as left-overs from the social mileu. having been a popular kid [=loud mouth] in my own country, the sudden change was pretty tough to live with.

2:26PM PDT on May 10, 2011

...stay all together and not create isolate groups...I think this could cause problems

2:21PM PDT on May 10, 2011

Wouldn't it be better if our students could accept all groups instead of isolating groups?

1:47PM PDT on May 10, 2011

I wonder if they consulted the children before doing this? I have an uneasy feeling that this could cause problems.

12:52PM PDT on May 10, 2011

Several here are trying to make the decision for the gay kids. Let them decide, if they like it they will use it, if not, they won't. It's not for us to decide what is best for them.

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