Safe Space, What Does it Really Mean?

I spoke last time about slurs, and there’s more that can be said on that issue alone. However, today, let’s look at something that jumps off of that point and look at the bigger picture of the safe spaces where the arguments are going on. Not only is this slurs issue one that comes up in safe space, but so do many others. And this differs somewhat from whether it’s a generic safe space, such as one for all LGBTQ people like the youth center I volunteer at, or if it’s one for one specific group, such as a group for trans people, or even more specific such as trans youth or black trans men (which we have down here). So let’s look at general rules first, then I’ll get into some more specifics.

First off, a safe space is one in which there is a reasonable expectation of freedom from the discrimination that we as minority members face in the outside world. This includes not only safety from the slurs we face, but also the attitudes and stereotypes as well. For example, in a trans specific space, there should be freedom from enforced gender typing and enforced gender binary. A trans woman should not have to worry that someone there will tell her “you face so much discrimination because you don’t pass” or “you’d have less issues if you dressed more femininely and wore makeup.” At a meeting of Latino/a people, there is a reasonable expectation of people not being accused of being lazy, or of the expectation that they always want to eat tacos and burritos.

When one creates a more generic safe space, one must include additional protections, due to overlapping identities. Also, we all have our own overlapping identities, which can make safe spaces feel uncomfortable or unsafe. For example, religious bashing is not uncommon in LGBT spaces due to the persecution so many of us face at religious conservatives and the pain that happens there. However, members of the LGBT community who are also religious and members of the religion being bashed (usually Christianity in one or more of its forms) may feel uncomfortable about speaking up about their faith simply because of the environment. And thus, when creating a safe space for one group or a series of groups, one must keep in mind the rest of the identities of others.

The only truly safe space is one that is a safe space for all, where no form of hate or intolerance is accepted. It does not need to be a “everyone welcome” space and can still be a space for one or more specific groups, but intersecting identities must be kept in mind. Women’s space, for example, must include women of all ethnicities, sexualities, gender expressions, assigned gender at birth, religions, etc., but must also be free of man-bashing, lest women in relationships with men feel uncomfortable, or those who are trans and either were raised male or are trans men still in the closet.

So readers, what suggestions do you have for your own local safe spaces?

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