How to Find and Create an LGBTQ+ Safe Space
LGBTQ+ people experience discrimination, abuse, and harm from homophobic hate. In the workplace, at school, and in their daily lives, LGBTQ+ people fear shunning, harassment, and injury for who they are as individuals. Anti-LGBTQ+ hate takes many forms such as online trolling, verbal hate, and physical attacks.
According to 2020 FBI statistics, there has been an uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ crimes, with such crimes being the third largest category after race and religion. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation represent 16.7% of hate crimes, and gender identity-based hate crimes have risen from 2.2% in 2018 to 2.7% in 2019. LGBTQ+ safe spaces are essential to save lives. Read on to learn more about LGBTQ+ safe spaces and how, as a social worker, you can help create them.
What Constitutes an LGBTQ+ Safe Space?
An LGBTQ+ safe space is a place where LGBTQ+ people can gather, connect, socialize, and communicate without worrying about hate, harassment, and harm. Safe space programs seek to create safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people. An LGBTQ+ safe space challenges hate towards LGBTQ+ people by contesting the silence marginalizing LGBTQ+ people. In LGBTQ+ social work, you need to be aware of LGBTQ+ people and their emotional needs as well as their needs for physical safety when creating an LGBTQ+ safe space. For many LGBTQ+ people, a safe space is a matter of life and death. Existing in a homophobic culture where they are ostracized and harmed, LGBTQ+ people need havens where they are free to be themselves.
Tips for Finding an LGBTQ+ Safe Space
Changes for LGBTQ+ people do not occur from policy and well-meaning alone. People acting together to ensure all are welcome and respected creates safe spaces. As social workers, you need to spread awareness of the vital role of LGBTQ+ safe spaces and work toward creating safe LGBTQ+ spaces in your practice and career. Read on to discover some tips for creating LGBTQ+ safe spaces.
Tips for Creating an LGBTQ+ Safe Space
Respond to Anti-LGBTQ+ Language
When confronting anti-LGBTQ+ language, you may be unsure how to address this problem. Educators and social workers are often not aware of the problems LGBTQ+ people experience. Social workers may lack LGBTQ-specific resources and training. They may not have the tools to stop anti-LGBTQ comments and behaviors.
People are sometimes nervous about reactions and resistance they might experience from their peers and colleagues. They might fear their family members or friends will react negatively to the social worker creating LGBTQ-inclusive and safe spaces. Shrugging off anti-LGBTQ+ words and behavior instead of confronting bullying is common. Others may not see how vital stopping anti-LGBTQ+ words and behavior is to the safety of everyone. When you are considering how you create LGBTQ+ safe spaces, you:
Develop Strong Policies
For any workplace, you should have an employee handbook or manual stating what language and actions will not be tolerated in your workplace. Furthermore, you should have clear disciplinary measures for those who go against workplace policies. Not only are these policies necessary for a safe workplace, but they are also essential for keeping your workplace within the boundaries of the law.
Respect is critical for ending anti-LGBTQ+ language. First, creating an environment of respect for everyone in the workplace, both staff and clients, is essential. Emphasize community values and respect for each person in your workplace and any environment. The language and actions you, your colleagues, staff, and clients use must be the baseline for an LGBTQ+ safe space. Respect means no demeaning language such as racist slurs, no profanity, no misogynist language, and, in general, no language or actions conveying stereotypes, harassment, and threats of harm.
Creating a safe space means educating your colleagues, staff, and clients about how harmful language and actions threaten LGBTQ+ people. Education is about destroying stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people. Educate others about LGBTQ+ history, culture, and the need for safe spaces.
Ignoring bullying condones bullying. Don’t be silent in the presence of evil where other people mock, harass and harm LGBTQ+ people. Bullies don’t stop at one group with their hate. They extend their abusive behavior to everyone. This creates an unsafe space in the workplace. Speak up against homophobic hate to make a safe place for LGBTQ+ people.
Learn the Terms
Learning LGBTQ+ vocabulary is essential to using the correct words to show respect to LGBTQ+ people. Language creates the discourse we have with each other. When we use vocabulary people use regularly and are comfortable with, we create a safe space for expression and existence. Using LGBTQ+ vocabulary creates an emotionally safe space necessary for inclusiveness and safety.
Normalize nongendered pronouns
As a part of using LGTBQ+ vocabulary correctly, normalizing pronouns is essential. You can normalize pronouns by:
Ask everyone their pronouns, not just people you think might be LGBTQ+. Asking for pronouns should be as natural as asking someone’s name.
Making the Effort
Use pronouns without concern for grammar to respect identities.
Use pronouns in your daily speech and writing. However, using pronouns without making mistakes requires practice.
Don’t assume a person’s gender when you meet them or ze or other pronouns. Representation of gender is different from gender identity. Gender presentation nor identity are indicators of what pronouns someone uses. Ask. Also, it’s important not to assume the person will keep their pronouns, gender is fluid, and their pronouns may change over time.
Include preferred gender pronouns or personal gender pronouns (PGP). For example, if you have name tags, include a (safe!) space for pronouns on the tags.
When you hear someone use the wrong pronouns, correct them. Part of being a good ally is helping other people get their pronouns right. This creates a standard in the workplace for you, your staff, colleagues, and clients.
One size doesn’t fit all for LGBTQ+ people. Don’t use default pronouns just because this is convenient for you. For example, all non-binary people are not “they.” Ask about pronouns and be consistent in using someone’s pronouns.
Mistakes happen and it’s important to say you are sorry when you misgender someone and use correct pronouns from that time. The best apology is learning from your mistakes and not repeating the errors.
Using Inclusive Language
Instead of addressing a group as “ladies” or “guys,” try to incorporate gender-neutral language. Use words such as colleagues in your vocabulary. Keep up with current use in media. For example, “pregnant people” might seem strange since the conventional use is “pregnant women,” but people who are transgender, non-binary, and identify in other LGBTQ+ ways can become pregnant.
Working with Consultants
Being an ally is essential, but so is working with others to create an LGBTQ+ safe space. Work with your colleagues to create an environment of respect and inclusiveness. Find other professionals to work with in supporting LGBTQ+ people. Attend conferences for supporting LGBTQ+ people, take workshops and training about LGBTQ+ issues, and share your research with your colleagues, clients, and family. Be vocal as an advocate for LGBTQ+ people. For LGBTQ+ people and everyone, creating safe spaces means creating these spaces on the community, local, state, and federal levels.
For Young People
Safe spaces are essential at any age, but young people are easy targets for bigots and homophobic attacks. Such bullying is a major cause of youth depression. Young people need resources to help them cope with identity questions and bigotry. Some resources are:
Advocates for Youth Advocates for Youth work alongside young people in the U.S. and around the globe as they fight for sexual health, rights, and justice.
How The Law Protects LGBTQ Youth | Lambda Legal: This blog provides description of how the law protects LGBTQ+ youth.
Human Rights Campaign: An advocacy group for LGBTQ+ rights.
It Gets Better Project: An organization for preventing LGBTQ+ suicide by advocating for safe spaces and mental health.
LGBTQ Youth Resources | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health | CDC: Resources from the CDC.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation: This foundation was named after Matthew Shepard who was murdered for being gay. The foundation promotes policies for LGBTQ+ safety and acceptance.
The Trevor Project and TrevorSpace are from a 1994 Academy Award-winning short film Trevor. The film is about Trevor, a gay thirteen-year-old boy who, rejected by friends because of his sexuality, attempts suicide.
Families are vital in helping LGBTQ+ people navigate their difficulties with coming out and existing as LGBTQ+. In addition, for LGBTQ+ people, families must be safe havens and allies against discrimination and homophobia. Some resources to support families:
A Parent’s Quick Guide for In-School Transitions – Human Rights Campaign: The guide supports parents and caregivers in navigating the process of in-school social transition for children who are transitioning.
Children and Gender Identity: Supporting Your Child – Mayo Clinic: This is a guide to supporting your child’s gender identity.
PFLAG: PFLAG is Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a group dedicated to helping family members who are LGBTQ+.
For Teachers and Administrators
Teachers and administrators are legally mandated to keep schools safe for all students. But, beyond the legal obligations, teachers and administrators need to be allies so students can thrive and succeed in school. Some resources to support teachers are:
An LGBTQIA+ Vocabulary | An Updated CLGS Resource for Faith Communities – CLGS: Faith communities have an important role in creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ people.
Be Prepared for LGBTQ +Questions & Concerns – Welcoming Schools Answer questions about LGBTQ+ people.
Homepage | GLSEN: GLSEN was founded by teachers to help LGBTQA+ people.
Safe at School: Addressing the School Environment and LGBT Safety through Policy and Legislation : Addresses policy for creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people in schools.
For Executives and Managers
Executives and managers are obligated to follow laws about LGBTQ+. The White House has created an executive order about LGBTQ+ people. Some resources to support executives and managers are:
Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination based on Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation – The White House An Executive Order combating discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools. https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-safety-and-crisis/systems-level-prevention/a-framework-for-safe-and-successful-schools. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
A Guide To Non-Binary Pronouns And Why They Matter | HuffPost Voices. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/non-binary-pronouns-why-they-matter_b_5a03107be4b0230facb8419a. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Advocates for Youth. https://www.advocatesforyouth.org/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
An LGBTQIA+ Vocabulary | An Updated CLGS Resource for Faith Communities – CLGS. https://www.clgs.org/multimedia-archive/an-lgbtqia-vocabulary-resource-for-faith-communities-2/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Anti-LGBTQ Policies: A Threat to Young People’s Health. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/anti-lgbtq-policies-are-affecting-young-peoples-health-how-to-help. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Be Prepared for LGBTQ +Questions & Concerns – Welcoming Schools. https://welcomingschools.org/resources/responding-to-lgbtq-concerns. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Children and Gender Identity: Supporting Your Child – Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/children-and-gender-identity/art-20266811. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation – The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-preventing-and-combating-discrimination-on-basis-of-gender-identity-or-sexual-orientation/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
For Students – LGBT+ History Month. https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/resources/for-students/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Gender Spectrum Homepage – Gender Spectrum. https://www.genderspectrum.org/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Glossary of Terms | Standwithtrans.Org. https://standwithtrans.org/glossary-of-terms/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Groups – Gender Spectrum. https://www.genderspectrum.org/articles/gender-spectrum-groups. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Home – AfterEllen. https://afterellen.com/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Home – Matthew Shepard Foundation. https://www.matthewshepard.org/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Home Page. https://web.archive.org/web/20120325025159/http://www.positivespace.utoronto.ca/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Homepage | GLSEN. https://www.glsen.org/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
How Do We Respond to Rising Anti-LGBTQ Rhetoric? – We The People. https://www.gaysonoma.com/2022/07/how-do-we-respond-to-rising-anti-lgbtq-rhetoric/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2022.
How Educators Can Support Families With Gender Diverse And Sexual Minority Youth: (527492015-001). American Psychological Association, 2015. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1037/e527492015-001.
How The Law Protects LGBTQ Youth | Lambda Legal. https://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/youth-how-the-law-protects. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Human Rights Campaign. https://www.hrc.org/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
In Defence of Safe Spaces: Subaltern Counterpublics and Vulnerable Politics in the Neoliberal University | SpringerLink. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-15246-8_7. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Kosciw, Joseph G., et al. The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). 121 West 27th Street Suite 804, New York, NY 10001. Tel: 212-727-0135; Fax: 212-727-0254; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site: http://www.glsen.org, 2018.
Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line. https://www.youthline.ca/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
LGBTQ+ Vocabulary Glossary of Terms » The Safe Zone Project. https://thesafezoneproject.com/resources/vocabulary/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2022.
—. https://thesafezoneproject.com/resources/vocabulary/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
LGBTQ – The LifeLine Canada Foundation. https://thelifelinecanada.ca/suicide-prevention-resources/lgbtq/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
LGBTQ Vocabulary Sheet » Teaching LGBTQ History. https://www.lgbtqhistory.org/lesson/lgbtq-vocabulary-sheet/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
LGBTQ Youth Resources | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health | CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center. https://www.lgbtqiahealtheducation.org/resources/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
LGBTQIA+ Vocabulary – LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin. https://lgbtsewi.org/lgbtqia-vocab/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2022.
—. https://lgbtsewi.org/lgbtqia-vocab/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Mental Health of Transgender Children Who Are Supported in Their Identities | Pediatrics | American Academy of Pediatrics. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/137/3/e20153223/81409/Mental-Health-of-Transgender-Children-Who-Are?redirectedFrom=fulltext?autologincheck=redirected?nfToken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
Safe Spaces, Explained – Vox. https://www.vox.com/2016/7/5/11949258/safe-spaces-explained. Accessed 22 Sept. 2022.
White, J. Tommy, et al. “Don’t Leave Us Out”: Responding to Anti- LGBTQ+ Remarks in the Classroom. 2021, p. 6.
https://positivespace.utoronto.ca/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.