Community

Safe Space

by Kayla Coursey

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and other individuals have been around as long as humans have existed. In the public eye, it’s a different story.

 

LGBT+ people often face criticism and discrimination, despite these variations being just as ordinary as left handedness. Like left handedness, there is little we know about how it develops, except for the fact that it is naturally occurring. Unfortunately, some people do not recognize different sexualities and gender identifications as the natural things that they are.

 

Our school is trying to do its part in supporting and protecting LGBT+ youth. Around the school, there are stickers on classroom windows displaying a rainbow heart on a purple background with the words ‘Safe Space’ splayed across the top.

 

“It’s [the safe space sticker] a well known symbol of a teacher’s classroom or a space where diversity is honored and where bullying is not allowed and where students and faculty are safe to be who they are,” said Ms. Epps, CBIP (Community Based Instruction Program) Director and Special Services Teacher.

 

She also recognized that not all students have an easy time finding a classroom where they can be safe from harassment and their differences are respected. She said, “It’s important to have safe spaces in the school because students need to know which teachers have made a promise to themselves that these things are not going to happen on their watch.”

 

When negative things do happen to peers and no one makes an attempt to fix the situation, other students develop a sense of helplessness. They see a student being bullied or discriminated against for something out of their control that makes them different. “Many students are afraid that this will happen to them,” said Ms. Epps.

 

Differences in gender and sexuality have been largely disputed throughout the ages. However, in some ancient civilizations, they were all perfectly accepted. Variations of gender outside the male-female binary were recognized in Ancient Egypt and in many Native American tribes. Hinduism holds gender variance in its own semi-divine caste and also enforces the idea that third gender people are third gender by their birth. Shinto holds several gods of gender variance. These are only a few examples of many historic people and civilizations who believe in gender variant deities.

 

Homosexuality was considered an illness until 1948, when biologist Alfred Kinsey published his research on sexuality titled Sexual Behavior in Men, saying that 37% of not-homosexual men have engaged in homosexual behavior.

 

Going into the 50’s, homosexuality became a bigger topic. Laws were passed to fire homosexual individuals from federal jobs. Homosexuality was considered a “sociopathic personality disturbance” by the American Psychiatric Association. Nearly 5,000 homosexual men and women were discharged from the military or fired from their government jobs.

 

Ironically, this was around the same time that the tide began to turn in favor of gay men and women. In 1956, homosexuality’s ‘sociopathic personality disturbance’ title was questioned in Chicago at the American Psychiatric Association’s conference. Evelyn Hooker presented her paper comparing test results between heterosexual and homosexual men, showing that there was no significant difference in the two groups results. This led to the first court ruling in favor of the first amendment rights of the LGBT publication One: The Homosexual Magazine in 1958.

 

The LGBT+ communities, particularly lesbian and gay people, began to expand and express themselves as the 60’s rolled around. They hosted sit ins and other peaceful protests in the same style as the Civil Rights Movement.

 

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. This ruling led to an increase of openly gay individuals holding office or public positions. Gay rights became a prominent issue coming into the end of the twentieth century, yet while support for the LGBT+ community increased, opposition and protests also increased.

 

Laws began to be put into place in the 90’s allowing states to independently define marriage and discriminate against same sex marriages, simultaneously working for and against the LGBT+ community. The turn of the 21st century saw the start of states making laws against discriminating against same sex couples. A wave of states ruling in favor of free marriage legislation through the 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s set the stage for the Supreme Court ruling this past summer. As of June 26, 2015, same sex marriage became legal in all 50 states by mandate of the federal government.

 

Like any social and civil rights movement, LGBT+ rights and conflicts will take decades more to resolve. And, just like any social and civil rights movement, it will need support from both inside and outside the community. While same sex marriage is now legal, the ruling is only the first step towards equality for the LGBT+ community.

 

As legal acceptance of the LGBT+ community is expanding, so is its social acceptance. The community at Monticello has become reflective of and accepting of more open minded values. Safe Space stickers are on the windows or walls of classrooms throughout the school, promoting Monticello’s policy of acceptance.

 

“Monticello is way more accepting than other school’s I’ve attended, particularly private schools,” said Azrael Guthrie. “As someone who figured out I was gay while at a private school, I know it would have been safer for me to come out here than there.”

 

The goal of the Safe Space stickers and program is to ensure that students, regardless of differences, can come to school and learn in a secure environment. Safe Space stickers raise awareness for the community and reassure students that there are accepting places in the school where they can be safe.
“If we don’t have that, we in Albemarle county are forcing you to come to school until you’re 18 and are subjecting you to unfair treatment, and that’s not fair,” said Epps. “We owe you better than that.”

Categories: Community, Uncategorized

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