Pat Tetreault, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Student Involvement
Director, LGBTQA Resource Center
346 Nebraska Union
LGBTQA Resource Center
346 Nebraska Union
Creating Inclusive Spaces: Safe space and Allies
“If you do not intentionally, deliberately and proactively include, you will unintentionally exclude.” – Joe Gerstandt
An inclusive environment is…
- One in which everyone feels safe, supported, included, and encouraged to be themselves;
- Where each person is recognized as a diverse individual connected to a community;
- Where diversity is recognized and accepted between and among individuals and groups; and
- Where equitable access, dignity and safety for all individuals and groups is normative.
Providing visible signs of inclusion are an important aspect of inclusion. This may be particularly important to individuals with group identities that have been historically excluded, underrepresented, underserved or who have experienced inequitable access to privileges or benefits available to others. This may be particularly important for LGBTQA+ individuals as sexual orientation and gender identity / expression are not always included in definitions of diversity or multiculturalism.
Click here to download the Inclusive Spaces Foldable handout.
OR Click here to download the Inclusive Spaces regular handout.
Signs of Inclusion
- All segments of the population are represented in leadership/administration.
- No one group dominates the discussion at meetings.
- Ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, sexual orientation and other slurs or jokes are not welcome.
- Group cliques are absent.
- Variety in appearance is the norm. Multiple identities are acknowledged.
- Warm, collegial relationships exist between people of diverse backgrounds.
- There is sensitivity and awareness of different religious and ethnic holidays & customs.
- Selection of food & refreshments takes religious & personal preferences into account.
- Language is inclusive. It is appropriately gender neutral. Preferred names are used.
- Non-discrimination policies include sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQ information is included in all leadership, multicultural and diversity education and workshops.
- Sexual, gender and other minorities find the organization a comfortable place to work.
- LGBTQA issues, how they relate to the organization, and how policies and activities can be developed that meet the needs of individuals and groups are discussed. Inequity is addressed.
- Attempts to create and maintain an inclusive and welcoming environment are evaluated and updated regularly. Resource allocation is equitable.
- LGBTQA people would say that the organization is visibly supportive; it is safe for sexual and gender minorities to be visible and open. Support for other minority, underrepresented and underserved groups is visible and available.
- Publications, fliers, posters, and other written materials are monitored to make sure they do not exclude historically underrepresented groups including LGBTQ people (by representing heterosexuality and gender conformity).
- There is a strong commitment to treat all people equitably and with respect.
- Buildings are accessible for people with disabilities and gender neutral restrooms and changing facilities are available. For a list of gender neutral restrooms go to: http://involved.unl.edu/lgbtqa/resources/bathroom.php
Safe space cards are available to individuals, organizations, groups and departments who want to provide a visible sign of their commitment to:
- Providing equitable access to their programs, services, and resources;
- Treating everyone with dignity; and
- Developing and maintaining an environment where individuals know they will be accepted for who they are and personal safety is valued.
While we cannot guarantee that challenging events or situations will never occur, we can commit to addressing and eliminating bias, prejudice and discrimination and acting in ways that demonstrate that we will support fair and respectful treatment of all people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions. Because we have not yet developed a society free of bias and discrimination, visible signs of inclusion are needed for individuals and groups who have historically not been included.
An ally card is a visible statement and sign that an individual is supportive and accepting of all people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expression and is actively committed to diversity and inclusion, mutual respect, and personal safety for all people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expression. An ally is an individual who is aware that inequity, prejudice and discrimination exists and will act in ways to support and assist in creating and maintaining inclusive environments.
Being an ally is more about how you behave than about how you identify (a verb or adjective rather than a noun).
The four dynamic stages of being an ally are:
- Education/becoming knowledgeable,
- Skills development, and
- Taking action!
Beyond Taking Action is building capacity and community (common unity). It is by working together and supporting each other that we can help create change.
Allies are often defined as non-members of the target group. For the LGBTQA+ population, this defines a straight ally. While it is important for individuals to be free to openly identify their orientation and identity to others, it should not be a requirement. When we incorporate identity as a main component of our definition of an ally we are presuming that all allies, by definition, are not LGBTQA+ (where the A stands for asexual/aromantic). Therefore, we are treating identities that can be somewhat fluid as if they are not. There are pros and cons to having orientation as a primary component of the definition of an ally - it can be powerful and sometimes more effective in a particular situation, for straight allies to speak up and act on behalf of a community or individual that has less power and privilege in a situation. And, some allies want their orientation to be known to others. It is perfectly acceptable to be out as a heterosexual. It is also normative and accepted to be straight and it can help some individuals feel more comfortable identifying as a straight ally.
On the other hand, there is a breadth of diversity within the LGBTQA+ community. Sexual orientation and gender identity, although not changeable, can be somewhat fluid and our gender expression may and can vary. Our own definitions and expression of who we are can vary. And, not all LGBTQA+ people, like non-LGBTQA+ people, are supportive and accepting of the LGBTQA+ community or knowledgeable and accepting of the diversity that exists within the community. When individuals come out to themselves and others also varies. Being an ally to one's community should not depend on how one identifies. How an individual identifies is based on the individual's definition. While it is impossible to totally take identity out of the definition of ally, it is not required. In defining an ally based on behavior, individuals can choose when and how they identify themselves to others based on their orientation and identity.
An advocate is an individual who is proactive and actively working to improve conditions and the environment so that it is more socially just. Some define advocates as members of the target group who are working on behalf of their community or communities. While it is not possible to totally take identity out of the definitions of ally and advocate, at UNL we are defining an ally as an individual who is pro-LGBTQ and actively committed to diversity and inclusion, mutual respect (our allies deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity that we all deserve) and personal safety (providing an environment where we are committed to providing an environment where all people of all orientations and identities are safe from prejudice and discrimination).
When we assume that allies are straight, we then require those LGBTQ individuals who work for equity for the LGBTQ community be out or living openly. If we are LGBTQ-identified and claim the label ally and it is associated with a heterosexual identity, it implies that their identity and orientation is known at that point in time. It also means we need to define and identify advocates (as non-members of the target group working for their community). We have opted to use a definition of allies that does not require people to make known their orientation. We hope that all individuals are comfortable with this lack of distinction about sexual orientation and gender identity in posting their commitment to being an ally even though it is not entirely possible to remove identity when using the word ally.
Out Ally List
We also have an out ally list, where we list our allies names and departments or organizations on campus. When individuals pick up a safe space or ally card we ask them to sign for the card, provide an email contact, and the location that the card will be posted. We also provide the opportunity to subscribe to one of our listservs and/"or InQueery, our newsletter, which is published monthly during the academic year.
If you have comments, suggestions, or questions or would like more information or materials related to creating inclusive spaces, safe space and ally cards, please contact Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQA Resource Center at UNL.