Guests: Gabby Rivera, formerly of GLSEN; Dr. Vinnie Pompei of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation
(April 1, 2018) If you’re straight, the world can be your playground. In school, girls talk about boys and boys talk about girls. They date. They go out socially together. They can approach an attractive stranger on the street and strike up a conversation. They can flirt. They can hold hands in public and give each other a peck on the cheek and a hug when parting. They can proudly show off their engagement rings and talk about their wedding shower or bachelor party and their wedding plans. They can talk freely about their spouse and their weekend plans with their families. They can keep a photo of their family on their desk at work. They can bring their spouses to company holiday parties and other events.
If you’re LGBTQ, however, these perfectly normal, everyday interactions are called “flaunting.” They can carry the risk of derogatory comments from strangers. Jobs can be lost. Violence can erupt. People have even been killed. So to protect ourselves, we often have to shut off a key part of our identity in public.
We all need community, and because LGBTQ people face risk in creating community in public, we have created safe spaces in which we don’t have to suppress important aspects of our humanity. LGBTQ bars, bookstores, coffeehouses, and community centers enable us to socialize with each other, to talk freely about important issues in our lives in support groups, to find literature that reflects our lives. These options typically exist in cities, and LGBTQ people without access to cities can feel isolated unless they can create a community on their own.
LGBTQ children can have it even tougher. Bullying is a harsh reality for LGBTQ students. Some young people have unaccepting families that reject them, leaving them homeless. The rates of homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide among LGBTQ youth are alarmingly high.
But a relatively recent development is the creation of safe spaces in schools. These are often formed as extracurricular clubs often called GSAs – Gay/Straight Alliances or Gender/Sexuality Alliances. They are places where young LGBTQ people and straight allies can gather and socialize and discuss issues in a safe environment. GSAs, which also go by other names, can have a ripple effect throughout the schools in which they exist, leading to lower overall bullying rates, higher academic achievement, and better social conditions. We talked with Mary Jane Karger of GLSEN about GSAs in the first edition of OutCasting.
On this edition of OutCasting, we talk about the importance of safe spaces for LGBTQ people, particularly youth. OutCaster Lauren talks with Gabby Rivera, an author who at the time of this interview was also the Youth Programs Manager at GLSEN, the Gay/Lesbian/Straight Education Network, an organization that advocates for policies that benefit LGBTQ youth and provides materials and assistance to local GSAs or people who want to start them. Also joining us is Dr. Vinnie Pompei, the director of the Youth Well-Being Project at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. HRC is a major civil rights organization working on behalf of LGBTQ people.