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Q&A with Shannon Novak, Safe Space Alliance Founder

How do you define LGBTQ+ safe space?

A safe space is a space where the LGBTQI+ community can freely express themselves without fear. It is a space that does not tolerate violence, bullying or hate speech towards the LGBTQI+ community. Safe space does not guarantee 100% safety, rather, it’s a space that has your back if an incident (violence, bullying, or hate speech) were to occur.

Why did you start the Safe Space Alliance?

The project emerged from the steadily increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide in the local (New Zealand) LGBTQI+ community. I began losing people close to me, and wanted to know why this was happening, and why it wasn’t being talked about. After consultation with local LGBTQI+ communities, a clear theme emerged - that people simply did not feel safe in public space, or that they felt there was nowhere to go that actively and visually supported the LGBTQI+ community. So I started small, coordinating a group of spaces in a New Zealand city to be part of the alliance, and through its immediate success, it naturally grew from there. In short - the Safe Space Alliance aims to help reduce negative statistics for the LGBTQI+ community worldwide by growing open and visual acceptance and support.

Do you think it is still needed in western urban areas where LGBTQ+ people have in most countries full rights and are accepted if not welcomed?

One thing I stress is that rights do not necessarily equate to acceptance. Acceptance takes time and may take a long time, to truly gain. Just because we have the right to marry in a country (for example), does not mean people necessarily accept that. If in the case we have all rights AND a high level of acceptance - that’s fantastic, but safe spaces are still required as I wrote about here. In summary:

  1. Rights: what rights the LGBTQI+ community in your area don’t have and its impact on safety in the LGBTQI+ community.

  2. Acceptance: global acceptance levels of the LGBTQI+ community regardless of legislation (as having legislation doesn’t necessarily equate to acceptance) and its impact on safety in the LGBTQI+ community.

  3. Well-being: the general well-being of the LGBTQI+ community and its impact on safety in the LGBTQI+ community.

  4. History: how those in the LGBTQI+ community who have lived through a period without rights and acceptance feel (e.g. ingrained uncertainty, fear, and a lack of trust) and its impact on safety in the LGBTQI+ community.

  5. Technology: the ability of technologies like the internet to ignore geographical boundaries and laws, facilitating violence, bullying, or hate speech towards the LGBTQI+ community and the impact of this on safety in the LGBTQI+ community.

  6. Visitors: people (inside and outside the LGBTQI+ community) visiting your area who may not know what rights your local LGBTQI+ community has and/or how accepting your area is and its impact on safety in the LGBTQI+ community.

How does the initiative scrutinize the places that would like to join the list especially in their relation to minorities within the LGBT community that still suffers from marginalisation and/or discrimination, for example, BIPOC persons, transgender persons, people with low income?

Not sure what you mean sure here - candidate places? The alliance is open to all, from all walks, sectors, communities at no cost/fees. In regards to QTBIPOC, we have a focus here. This originally stems from my work as an artist - where via research in the local (NZ) community, I am working to help illuminate, amplify, and preserve QTBIPOC history.

LGBTQ+ Safe Spaces are in most need in countries where LGBT people are still discriminated against or even persecuted. How can such spaces avoid the risk of registering with the alliance?

We register both physical (with a street address) and digital (online/web-based) spaces. Digital safe spaces may be the only option in some cases (e.g. online chat, online discussion forums, etc), particularly where it’s illegal to be part of the LGBTQI+ community - and these may be found in our directory. Alternatively, we have partnerships with over 200+ LGBTQI+ organisations worldwide - including areas where it is not legal to be part of the LGBTQI+ community, so we often link people/locals to these organisations for support.


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