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Friday March 24th

'It's our responsibility': Safe Zone trainings offer skills to affirm LGBTQ+ community

LGBTQ Center banner pictured on Sunday, August 29th, 2021.
Buy Photos LGBTQ Center banner pictured on Sunday, August 29th, 2021.

Erin Siegal McIntyre, an assistant professor at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, noticed a small placard on the doors of several of her colleagues while walking around Carroll Hall. 

The placard reads that the recipient “has completed Safe Zone training and has pledged to affirm the identities of and provide resources to people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”

Now offered through the LGBTQ Center, Safe Zone trainings started at UNC in 1998. College campuses nationwide offer Safe Zone training programs, and they are designed to create a network of allies for LGBTQ+ individuals in and around the campus community.

The trainings are open to students, faculty and staff at UNC, as well as any interested community members. Last year, more than 1,000 trainees completed the program.

Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center, said the Safe Zone training placards are a visible symbol of affirmation and support for LGBTQ people.

“As someone who is older and really secure in my identity, that makes me happy when I walk down the hall and I see those," Phoenix said. "It warms my heart and it makes me feel like I'm a part of this University. And so, imagine a 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-old who may be early in the stages of their own identity development — when they see those placards, it really makes a difference.”

Seeing the placards inspired Siegal McIntyre to attend one of the trainings in August and then to put a pride flag in her Twitter bio.

“As someone who is queer, but whose queerness is pretty invisible, for me as a professor, what I took away was sort of the importance of visibility on-campus to this community, and how there is a need for our community to see professors be out,” Siegal McIntyre said. “Like, how do you say, ‘Hey, I'm out,’ when that's not really part of your course?”

Safe Zone curriculum

The foundational curriculum of the training has two paths – the standard curriculum and the health care curriculum.

Some of the topics in the standard curriculum include the meaning of being an ally, the language and terminology that is relevant to LGBTQ+ communities and recommended practices on-campus.

Colleen McKeel, a graduate student in UNC's counseling program, said the biggest thing she took away from the training was being more aware of the language used by the LGBTQ+ community, particularly words like “queer” and the normalization of introductions including pronouns.

“Even within a community that you identify with, you still need to be conscious of what people are comfortable with and what people prefer to call themselves,” McKeel, who identifies as queer, said. “I think it just reminded me to take a step back and not really assume anything.”

The health care curriculum is recommended for anyone working in or studying medicine. It features similar content and also includes information about health disparities and data for the LGBTQ+ community.

Pamela Paz, a UNC senior on the pre-PA track, attended the healthcare-focused training. As an EMT and someone who plans to work in healthcare, she said she wanted to learn how to create an environment free of assumptions and judgments for her future patients.

“Once you begin a conversation through an assumption rather than asking your patient to clarify things or asking them to tell you about themselves, you're limiting the extent to which you can help them and also limiting the information they're willing to provide to you in return,” Paz said.

The LGBTQ Center also hosts continuing education trainings – open to those who have already completed either of the foundational Safe Zone trainings – that dive deeper into specific identities, including transgender, nonbinary and intersex.

Pandemic impacts

The Center shifted to Zoom training sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Phoenix said there hasn’t been a difference in the number of people participating — the trainings have actually had fewer no-show registrations since they moved online.

“We found that people were really kind of excited about the trainings, in one respect because they did not have to trek across campus, and then also people who were not in our local area could access the training,” Phoenix said. “So we might have folks at other colleges or universities that didn't have an LGBTQ center or resources available, and by doing it remotely folks could participate.”

Phoenix said the goal of all of the trainings is to provide awareness, knowledge, resources and the basic skills needed to affirm the LGBTQ+ members of the campus and surrounding community.

“I feel like it is the bare minimum that people can do as allies,” Paz said. “Since we have an understanding of the disparities that already exist, it's our responsibility to try and do everything to lessen them simply by being educated.”

Phoenix said the University has made progress in changing and adapting policies, practices and procedures where possible. The trainings, Phoenix said, play a part in creating an intentionally inclusive environment on campus.

The LGBTQ Center will have its next standard curriculum training on Sept. 2 from 1 - 5 p.m. and its next health care curriculum training on Sept. 10 from 12 - 4 p.m., both via Zoom. 

Visit to register and for a full calendar of upcoming trainings and events.


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