Safe Zone Training
The Safe Zone Training is an educational endeavor that PFLAG Woodstock is thrilled to begin offering to the community, thanks to the experience Rhonda Zingraff brings to the chapter and the Training.
My Safe Zone Stepping Stones
I owe my start in Safe Zone to the students of Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, who recruited me to be the faculty advisor for the new student organization they were creating. It was the 1990’s, and they had decided it was high time for that well-regarded southern women’s college to openly affirm its LGBT students and their allies (the Q+ had yet to be added). I felt gratified that they trusted me to help them, because it meant they viewed me as “safe.” But being safe and being knowledgeable are not the same. I was safe because I was an approachable sociology professor whose classes addressed systems of inequality, and I helped all of my students to recognize the burdens of oppression. My knowledge of the LGBT world needed a boost, however.
This illustrates the classic intersectionality challenge! I knew that most critiques of sexism left out sexual minorities (as well as women of color, working class women, women of developing societies) and that most critiques of racism left out sexual minorities (as well as women and multiple racial or ethnic minorities distinguished from Black communities). But my understanding of sexual minorities was thin. So I was safe, but I could also be clueless! And this is where my Safe Zone story really begins.
Safe Zone was not a slick, organized online project at that time. Instead, it was a program and agenda being passed around campuses across America with the aim of increasing knowledge and improving environments. Completion of a Safe Zone training or workshop would entitle you to possession of an eye-catching sticker that could be displayed on the door of an office, a dorm room, a studio, etc., so that any LGBT person would know “this is a safe place.” It did not promise flawless knowledge – not after just one workshop! – but it was a guarantee of welcome, attention and good will. So our new student organization, Spectrum, began to offer Safe Zone and the appearance of those stickers around campus was nowhere near universal, but still very gratifying.
Fast-forward to 2023 and much has changed. I moved to Virginia and wrapped up my career at JMU, where I was pleased to see Safe Zone training get underway. I take no credit for the launch at JMU, which was accomplished by others, but I was a staunch cheerleader for it and am delighted to see how much in demand it has been. To have the opportunity in retirement to extend Safe Zone to Shenandoah County is something I value greatly. Gaps in basic knowledge about LGBTQ+ identities and experiences remain huge, and are obstructions to connection, healing, dignity and respect. Safe Zone training is a proven method for beginning to close those gaps.