By Sarah O’Connor, Staff Writer
The Safe Zone stickers on office doors, desk spaces or dorm rooms do not only suggest support to the LGBTQ community but it shows that the people behind these doors have been educated through the Safe Zone orientation program. Last week, volunteers underwent a 1.5 to 2 hour orientation to be introduced to the aspects and experiences of individuals from the LGBTQ+ community.
According to their website, the mission of the Safe Zone Project “is to visibly identity and support those members of the University community who are safe and supportive contacts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer students, staff and faculty.”
USM’s Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity oversees the Safe Zone Project. They work to ensure a positive, safe and support environment for individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Sarah Holmes, Assistant Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Director, works with the Safe Zone project. When she was a student at USM, she took part in founding the project.
“The Safe Zone Project was created back in the 90s to further educate people, when students didn’t know who would be supportive of them,” Holmes said. “It was a different time. It created a movement of support and made a less judgemental environment.”
The Safe Zone Project has had the same mission and has had a reputation for being supportive over the past 20 years, but the orientation to educate students and faculty is evolving over time, according to Holmes.
“The language we use in the training is constantly changing,” Holmes said. “The words that are used today are definitely different than in the 90s. Some people did it five, 10, 15 years ago, but now they want to do it again because of the new words and terminologies.”
Holmes explains that the training the volunteers undergoes focuses on basic concepts of gender identity and gender expression. There is education on the difference between gender and sex “because there is a difference there,” Holmes said. The training urges individuals to even reflect on their own selves.
“It creates an ally action plan which can consist of less judgement, challenging anti-gay jokes, wrong language, and knowing to ask about someone’s pronouns,” Holmes said.
The movement that the Safe Zone Project promotes and continues is far from over. As Holmes says, “There is still judgement out there and still pockets of biases.”
By attending a Safe Zone Project orientation, not only will the university be marked by the Safe Zone stickers, but the LGBTQ+ community will have the support they need by allies seeking education about their identities and experiences. Project training is ongoing throughout the school year. The next session is on Thursday, April 5 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the Portland Campus in 327 Luther Bonney Hall. For those who are interested in getting involved, you can reach Sarah Holmes at 207-780-5767, or by emailing [email protected].