Trainings Create “Safe Zones”

Advocates, Colgate’s gay-straight alliance, has taken steps to improve awareness of issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members of the Colgate community by organizing the first “Safe Zone” seminar of the academic year on Monday, September 20, in the African, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center.

“Safe Zone” refers to a state of sensitivity and understanding towards LGBTQ people. Advocates and the Rainbow Alliance are attempting to achieve this goal through Safe Zone training sessions. The sessions are open to students, faculty and staff at Colgate. Those who complete a training session can chose to become an ally, someone who matches the criteria for a Safe Zone and is willing to provide support and guidance for LGBTQ students.

Safe Zone training started in the fall of 2003 by Tina Marciano, the first LGBTQ program assistant. Marciano noticed a general ignorance at Colgate of the issues facing the LBGTQ community. Her solution was the Safe Zone program.

At the start of Monday’s program, participants were divided into five brainstorming groups. Each group spent a few minutes at one of five posters that said “Lesbian,” “Gay,” “Bisexual,” “Straight” and “Transgender.” At each poster the groups wrote everything that the respective term brought to mind.

The majority of the ideas associated were stereotypes, mostly either negative or neutral. After every group had been rotated to each poster, leaders quickly read aloud what people had written. The “Gay” poster was overwhelmingly filled with the names of celebrities known or suspected to be homosexual, while the “Transgender” poster had the least number of comments written on it.

Participants were also introduced to terms such as “ally,” “heterosexism” and less common terms like “Two Spirit” – which comes from some Native American tribes and refers to a person that exhibits male and female qualities. These people were treated with great respect and reverence because they were believed to have special spiritual power. Modern Native American homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people use it to describe themselves, and members of the queer community have used the term as well.

Safe Zone trainees also were challenged to create a “snapshot” of “homophobia and “heterosexual” without talking to each other. Each group produced a pantomime of outright revulsion, albeit without any violence, towards homosexuals for the former, while the latter term produced more ambiguous pantomimes. One group offered its illustration by depicting a deliberate disgust with a homosexual couple juxtaposed with open praise for a heterosexual couple.

Finally, each participant as asked to write of a time when he/she became an ally to someone, could have been an ally but was not, needed an ally but did not have one, and had an ally. The leaders asked for people to become “Safe Zone Allies” in the Colgate community.

Two more training sessions will be held this term: on October 16 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Delta Delta Delta House, and on November 17 from 6 to 9 p.m. at ALANA.