‘Safe Spaces’ for LGBT teens promoted among CHS classrooms

Nine out of ten lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are harassed at school because of their sexual orientation, according to a U.S. study in the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey.

According to GLSEN, these students need a safe space where they know they will always feel protected and secure during the high-paced school environment of today. Across Carmel High’s campus today, there are nearly 40 of these spaces that are distinguishable by a rainbow-colored sign.

The sign reads, “This is a safe and inclusive space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their allies.” According to Diversity Club president and senior Amanda Hobbs, an ally is one who stands up and protects those who are being persecuted because of their identity.

Starting in the fall semester, these signs were put up by the campus Diversity Club, which aims at making a safe environment for all students, although the signs may be somewhat misleading. According to Diversity Club adviser Elena Loomis and members of the club itself, the CHS intent for safe spaces is to create a safe environment for all students, not only those in the LGBT community.

“We got the sign from a program called GLSEN who aim at crafting a safer school environment for LGBT students,” Loomis says. However, we are planning to update the signs to be more inclusive of all students.”

Loomis introduced these signs at a faculty meeting in October, and teachers who were present could decide whether they wanted their classroom to become a “safe space” by posting a sign in their windows.

Besides the LGBT pride flag on the sign, two other important symbols include pink and black triangles. According to GLSEN, the history of the colored triangles began in Nazi Germany during World War II. As Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David, gay men wore pink triangles and lesbians wore black triangles to indicate their identity. In the 1970s, the two colored triangles were revived during the gay rights movement.

Freshman Kylie Yeatman, who identifies as transgender, explains that if she were ever in a threatening situation, she personally would not seek refuge in a safe space classroom, but would be more inclined to speak to her mother or, if on campus, a counselor or close friend.

“In theory, a safe space is a good idea, but I think that students will ignore other people’s opinions,” Yeatman says. “Then it becomes less of a safe space and more a place to talk to people who agree with their own opinions.”

However, freshman Muna Mohammed, who is both black and Muslim, believes that if she ever is directly targeted, she would feel comfortable coming to a safe space on campus.

Although the signs are predominant across campus, some teachers report not having many students use their safe space. Health teacher Leigh Cambra explains that she feels as though students come to her based on teacher-student connections rather than having the sign on her window.

“I think many students who know me know that I’m comfortable talking about anything,” Cambra says, “so I hung up the sign to just reinforce that I’m here for anyone.”

When French teacher Suzanne Marden was asked by a student to put up the safe space sign, she informed the student that while it was a safe space and hate speech would not be tolerated, she would allow discussions of tolerance.

“All views are acceptable as long as they are expressed in a respectable way,” Marden says. “I think it’s important to have that discussion.”

Likewise, special education teacher Adriana Giacomelli encourages students to have discussions about tolerance, sensitivity and being an ally.

“I think these are some of the most important conversations we can have with our students so they feel safe,” Giacomelli says. “My classroom is a small environment where students can learn these skills and then be able to apply them to the masses.”

-Joyce Doherty