Author: Maya Serna
I’ve seen stickers and signs around campus that read “Safe Zone LGBTQ+ Ally,” and I finally got so curious that I decided to look into it. The Safe Zone program that Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) offers is a campus-wide training to become a certified ally to the LGBTQ community. It is offered throughout the year for faculty and students.
The program first started in 2004 with the Lambda Gender-Sexuality Alliance, a group of students from the Western Campus. These students saw the need for a Safe Zone program to be established at Tri-C to help educate others and to create a more inclusive learning environment. When I attended the training session, we learned about different terminology, different genders and orientations, and how to be a supportive person and resource. We also discussed different LGBTQ related issues and statistics. An effort was also made to highlight some of the particular struggles of LGBTQ people of color, which I appreciated. The Safe Zone training is meant not only to educate people about LGBTQ related language and issues, but also to bring allies, allies in training, and members of the LGBTQ community together in a safe space to learn from each other.
Now you might be wondering why this training is even important. Can’t you be an ally just by saying that you support the LGBTQ community? Let’s take a look at what the terms “ally” and “safe zone” really mean. To me, an LGBTQ ally is someone who is not a part of the community themselves, but who still takes the time to become educated on LGBTQ issues and topics to help the queer community become more respected in our society. They’re advocates, friends and voices for change. The Safe Zone training at Tri-C can be very helpful to people who want to be allies, but don’t know how yet.
Now let’s look at the term “safe zone”. What is a safe zone? According to Tri-C, “a safe zone is a space in which everyone will be respected and heard, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.” I think that is a pretty good definition. Having a safe zone at school is important for the youth of today. Something that I learned during the training that I thought was especially interesting was that students who attend colleges with an LGBTQ affirming club are more likely to have a higher GPA, which just goes to show the importance of the program. Not everyone in the LGBTQ community feels safe at home, so when schools take affirming actions like this, and actually help to spread awareness and knowledge about the community, it can make a huge difference in people’s lives.
Personally, knowing that my school is trying to be a safe place really helps me to feel relaxed and free to express myself. I am very fortunate that I have amazing parents who accept and support me at home. However, I am a queer person of color and I’ve been in situations and places before that definitely did not feel like safe spaces. When I don’t feel safe to be open about my LGBTQ identity, it makes me feel ashamed and unheard. No one should ever have to feel ashamed for being themselves, and a lot of kids have it worse than I do. It’s especially difficult for LGBTQ people of color or LGBTQ people living in countries without anti-discrimination laws to feel safe. It’s very easy for the majority of straight, cisgender (non-transgender) people to feel accepted and affirmed in their identities everywhere. They are constantly surrounded by others like them, or at least by people who understand what it’s like to be straight and cisgender. The LGBTQ community is constantly made to feel as if they don’t belong or aren’t understood. I think we could all use a little more empathy for one another.
Knowing that there are true allies in my community makes me feel safer and helps me to do better in school, and I’m sure a lot of other students feel the same way. Afterall, isn’t college all about learning and helping others out? If you have decided that you would like to be a Safe Zone Ally, check out Tri-C’s Safe Zone webpage for more information.