Recently, I had a very poignant conversation with a man in his 50s who told me, “I grew up in a small rural town where no one had ever mentioned the possibility of my being attracted to someone of the same sex. At that time, even our church didn’t preach against it. Of course homosexuality wasn’t visible on TV, and we didn’t have the Internet. At about the age of 12, I realized that my feelings were different than the other boys, at least as far as I knew. I thought that I must be the only person in the whole world who had these evil feelings. I was terrified of going to high school because my secret might get found out when I had to take a communal shower during PE. I spent the summer between my middle school and high school years trying to figure out how to kill myself in a way that wouldn’t hurt me or upset my family so that no one would ever have to know.”
We both rejoiced after he told me his story because he is alive, happy, loved, and a valuable member of our society. Thanks to the courage of many people including this man, boys and girls don’t have to worry anymore that they are the only people in the world who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered or questioning their sexual identity.
Our world has come a long way in terms of this kind of prejudice — and still has a long way to go. Kids who are starting to become aware of their sexual feelings do still have to worry that their sexual orientation or identity might be considered wrong by others, cause them to lose the love of their families, force them to face homophobia, put them at greater risk of being assaulted, and make their lives harder.
At Kidpower, we promote inclusiveness and understanding of differences as being essential to our vision of working together to create cultures of caring, respect, and safety for everyone, everywhere. Violence because of someone’s sexual orientation and identity is still sometimes not understood as being just as much of a hate crime as violence due to other forms of prejudice. For this reason, we have added an LGBTQ Safety section to our new Kidpower.org website.
During PRIDE Week, and of course at other times, we encourage members of the LGBTQ community and their allies to be proud of who they are — and to keep these seven “People Safety” strategies in mind so they can celebrate with safety and confidence:
1. Put Safety First. Your safety is more important than embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense to yourself or others.
2. Assess Situations Realistically. Don’t fall into the traps of the “Illusion of Safety” or thinking, “But It’s My RIGHT!” Notice when something “doesn’t feel right,” and pay more attention rather than dismissing the feeling. Think First before doing something risky just because you are filled with a a sense of even justified outrage. (See #1!)
3. Use Target Denial. Target Denial means staying aware of your surroundings, noticing who and what is going on around you and moving out of reach or leaving before trouble starts. Be willing to change your plan if a situation starts to become unsafe. Don’t let yourself operate on automatic pilot, assuming that a big crowd or a even quiet corner is, or will remain, safe. This also means that even during PRIDE week, you still want to Think First before you wear your Gay Pride tee shirt or hold hands around people who you believe may be likely to react with violence.
4. Stay Centered. Manage your emotional triggers so you can act aware, respectful, calm, and confident even if someone is being rude or threatening. Take a step back and give yourself a moment to breathe and look around, make sure you are balanced on your feet and that your hands are open, calm and available to you – such as down by your sides, up and close to the front of your chest like a fence, or together in a “Namaste” type of gesture.
5. De-escalate. If someone is threatening or trying to pick a fight, say whatever you need to say in order to leave in a peaceful way. You do not owe an attacker the truth. Be willing to lie in order to leave a threatening situation safely or even to apologize for upsetting someone, even if this is totally unfair. Don’t let anyone bait you into a fight or other unsafe actions that might give them more privacy or control.
6. Set Boundaries. When it is reasonably safe to do so, speak up about prejudice in a powerful, respectful way that does not attack others even if they are rude and insulting. Think about the pros and cons of speaking up in this particular moment. Life is not risk free and we have to take some risks in order to advocate for ourselves and others. At the same time, sometimes speaking up makes things worse and leaving and getting help might be a more effective strategy to use.
7. Get Help. Remember that safety is with safe people, and not just a safer location. You have the right to interrupt busy people, and to make them uncomfortable, in order to protect yourself and to get support to stop a situation that is unsafe. Be prepared to be persistent if someone doesn’t listen at first. If one person doesn’t help, find another who will. Even if the immediate problem has stopped, still get help and support from people you trust. We frequently hear stories of how someone getting help for themselves also had the effect of helping others avoid the same or similar problems.
Kidpower is short for Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a non-profit leader in “People Safety” education and training for people of all ages. Visit Kidpower.org for free Library resources, affordable publications, in-person workshops, and consultation.