LGBTQA program open to students, faculty, and staff

Safe Zone Expands

That colorful sign that you may have seen around campus posted on different doors is not just used as a fun door decoration. Instead, it symbolizes that the particular office is a Safe Zone. Safe Zone is a program that has been popping up on college campuses throughout the United States for the past 20 years, but has only been on the UIS campus for about eight or nine years.

According to Kerry Poynter, Director of the LGBTQA office, Safe Zone “is an avenue where allies, usually heterosexual allies, to the LGBTQ population can show their support visibly.” It is a way for volunteers to take that extra step and show that they are comfortable talking about these issues that might not get a lot of conversation.

Individuals who are interested in taking part in this program must go through at least three of the six workshops provided. However, they can attend all six if they choose. The first workshop is a general overview to give individuals an idea of what the program is, as well as other basic information. Individuals can test out of this fundamental session if they receive a high enough score on an online test.

The other five workshops focus more on a specific topic, such as multiple identities, safe dating, bisexuality, religion and transgender. Individuals are allowed to choose whichever sessions they think they will benefit from the most.

The specific topics for each of the workshops were chosen about two and a half years ago when the program was reinvented. They asked current members what topics they felt would be the most helpful to them and went from there.

These workshops are spread throughout the semester and restart at the beginning of every new semester. Dates and times for the workshops vary in order to give all individuals a chance to attend and get involved. Typically, the introduction workshop lasts about three hours, while the more focused sessions last about two.

There has been a lot of positive feedback on these workshops, which has been posted in the form of comments on the LGBTQA Resource Office’s page. For example, someone stated that the program is phenomenal “with noble goals of supporting and advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ community. Very encouraging and inspiring.” Another said it was “Very helpful information presented in a very comfortable atmosphere.”

Once they finish three out of the six workshops, the participants receive a colorful sign that they are asked to display on their door. This sign indicates that they welcome conversation on these topics and that it is a safe zone for individuals to be themselves.

“For some people like me it took a lifetime to discover who I was and what I believed in. I come from a strong Christian family and I felt a lot of guilt. It was not their fault. They believed what they were taught,” said Deb Ply, office manager of undergraduate education. “I became a Safe Zone member three years ago and co-facilitate the Religion session. I am now confident that God loves me and all LGBTQ people and I want to help others get over their fear and anger to allow for a more peaceful existence.”

So far, there are around 130 individuals who have completely finished all of the mandatory workshops. There are also over 300 individuals who have gone to at least one of the workshops and are on their way to becoming complete members.

“I got involved with the program because social justice issues (including LGBT rights) are very important to me,” said Holly Kent, assistant professor of history and part of the Safe Zone Coordinating Committee. “I study women’s history and women’s activism, and consequently think a lot about issues of inequality in my teaching and research. Given those interests, I was eager to get involved in the Safe Zone program, to be part of helping to make UIS a more inclusive environment for its LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty.”

In an attempt to get more individuals involved in this program, there has been a new “Invite a Friend to Safe Zone” email option. Current members are encouraged to invite their friends or colleagues to partake in this program through email.

This program is for students as well as staff. If you are interested in participating, please visit go.uis.edu/safezone for more information.