Inclusive Spaces

Creating Inclusive Spaces: Safe Space, Brave Space, Allies and Advocates

“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 important indicators of equitable access and respectful provision of programs & services. 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, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation and other slurs or jokes are not welcome.
  • Language is inclusive. It is appropriately gender neutral. Preferred names and pronouns are used.
  • Group cliques are absent.
  • Variety in appearance is the norm.
  • Multiple and intersecting identities are acknowledged and valued.
  • 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.
  • Non-discrimination policies include sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQA+ information is included in all leadership, multicultural and diversity education and workshops.
  • Individuals from historically underrepresented and underserved groups find the organization a comfortable place to work.
  • LGBTQA+ issues, how they relate to the organization, and how policies, practices, and activities can be developed and implemented 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 people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expression to be visible and open. Support for other minority, underrepresented and underserved groups is visible and available.
  • Family members and relationships are recognized. Partner benefits are available.
  • Publications, fliers, posters, and other written materials are monitored and updated to make sure they do not exclude historically underrepresented groups including LGBTQA+ people (by representing heterosexuality and gender conformity as the norm).
  • There is a strong commitment to treat all people equitably and with respect.
  • Buildings are accessible for people with disabilities.  Gender neutral restrooms and changing facilities are available.  For a list of gender neutral restrooms go to:

Safe Space/Brave Space

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.

Brave Space: Brave space is a community space where different points on a journey of learning and growing are acknowledged. Community members engage in dialogue through conscious questioning and active listening. While all are expected to make their best effort to be respectful, there is an understanding that someone may say something that results in unintentional offense and hurt feelings for those around. A primary assumption of brave space is that everyone speaks with the positive intent of seeking greater knowledge and understanding.

The LGBTQA+ Resource Center is regarded as a Brave Space where all members of the UNL community are welcome and where people with different life experience and ideas are encouraged to learn from one another. For more information on Brave Spaces, please contact Pat at

ALLY Behavior

The UNL ally card is a visible symbol of an individual's commitment to be 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.

The above definition reflects an understanding that we are all in this together. We regard ally behavior as being 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:

  • Awareness,
  • 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.

A more common definition or understanding of allies is one where allies are defined as non-members of the target group. For the LGBTQA+ population, this defines a straight cisgender 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 cisgender 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 (our self-identification), 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. 

See the Trans* Guide page for Tips on Being a Trans* Ally or stop by the resource center for a print copy.


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, the operational definition used by the LGBTQA+ Resource Center @ UNL is 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 LGBTQA+ individuals who work for equity for the LGBTQA+ community to be out or living openly. If we are LGBTQA-identified and claim the label ally and it is associated with a heterosexual identity, it implies that our identity and orientation is known (and fixed) 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 or others allies (as non-members of the group/community). 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.  We encourage people to consider ally behavior and advocacy as the key.

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.

Contact Information


Pat Tetreault, Ph.D.

346 Nebraska Union

(402) 472-1752

LGBTQA Resource Center

346 Nebraska Union

(402) 472-1652