Learning & Teaching
Is Your Program a Safe Space?
By Beck Govoni, After School Coordinator at the Cambridge YMCA
“Safe Space” reads the sign on your program door. As you enter you pause, perhaps for the first time, you actually pause and think about those words written across an upside down triangle. You survey your classroom. Is your program a safe space? Who or what is it a safe space for? What is the point of the sign on your door?
These questions and line of thinking is the first step to working towards creating a safe space for transgender and gender nonconforming youth in your program. Creating a safe space is more than putting a couple of stickers on your door and calling it a day, yet as everyone who works with youth knows, stickers do hold great importance.
Working with transgender and gender nonconforming youth can be an enriching and meaningful experience for youth workers, but where do you start? What if you say the wrong thing? Are you really qualified to help these young people? Lucky for you, you are on the right track again.
The first step to helping transgender and gender nonconforming youth is examining yourself and your role as a youth worker.
My first priority as a youth worker is children’s safety and my second priority is having fun. These priorities can be challenging because transgender youth are more likely than other young people to be bullied, experience homelessness, experience abuse, and be assaulted and these rates are even higher in transgender people of color. This is why it is so important to create a safe space not only within your program but also within yourself.
Remember that you are there for the youth. You may feel awkward or uncomfortable as you begin your journey to becoming a safe space, but that is normal. It is ok to feel that way. You may have been raised with different societal expectations of gender. This may be your first interaction with someone who is transgender or gender nonconforming. Here is a tip sheet that I have developed to support the staff I support to Work With Youth Who Are Transgender/Gender Nonconforming.
Approach the situation with respect, empathy, and a willingness to learn.
The next step to creating a safe space is examining the space you are in. What media do you have in your program? Is it inclusive and supportive of transgender and gender nonconforming people? Look at the books on your shelves and the posters on the wall.
Remember that you, as a youth worker, hold the incredible power of inclusion. You have the ability to make all children and youth feel safe, comfortable, and able to be themselves in an environment you create. You are capable of becoming a safe space, you just need to take those first steps.
Beck has a bachelor's degree in Sociology with a minor in Gender Studies and has served as the Afterschool Coordinator at the Cambridge YMCA since 2019. Beck has worked with youth for more than 6 years and recently hosted an OST Clubhouse Conversation at the 2021 Reimagining OST Symposium entitled: Supporting Your Gender Nonconforming Youth.
We also recommend that you request and explore the recorded training: Gender Dynamics and Identity: Grades 4-8, facilitated by Minh Nguyen. Learn more.
If you'd like to share resources with your colleagues, tell us how you are coping and healing, and helping the youth and families that you work with to heal, and continuing to find joy, please submit a blog post by emailing. Here are some tips to help get you started.
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