By Gregory Casey, PhD, LMT and Jessica Landry, DNP, FNP-BC
Imagine the atrium between the Allied Health/Nursing building and the Medical Education building. Laughter erupts across from you as three young ladies joke. A young man, eyes glued to his computer, taps the keys on his laptop a few feet away from you.
“It’s too bad he’s gay. What a waste.” One of the ladies points her finger at him while the others laugh.
He rolls his eyes while returning to his studies.
You catch a glimpse in his eyes. A normal situation, yet a little “off.”
These kinds of scenarios happen every day. For the majority of the population, the interplay seems harmless; however, for some individuals, it hurts. The Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community is a diverse population of people who embrace different norms that may be misunderstood by mainstream society. One of the best ways to handle “off” situations is through education, dialogue, and having an open mind.
For the past 43 years, the Gay Alliance has educated and trained individuals to bridge this “off” gap between the LGBTQ community and the majority of the population. One of their most successful developments is the Safe Zone program. You may have noticed this sticker on office doors and windows throughout the university:
The sticker indicates that an individual has attended a Safe Zone training program. During the training, common knowledge of the LGBTQ community is shared with participants. Understanding is increased, myths and stereotypes are replaced with truths and proper terminology, safe places are created, and dialogue is opened for those who are willing to learn and grow in this inclusive environment.
At a Safe Zone program, participants engage in a variety of activities such as vocabulary match up, creating inclusive spaces, didn’t/did activity when confronting LGBTQ bias. There are also one or more guests from the LGBTQ community that speak to the group about various challenges associated with personal and professional areas of his, her, hir, or their life. Each activity helps to expand the knowledge of the participant and an understanding of LGBTQ individuals and their diverse culture. Safe Zone training creates an inclusive learning environment. At the LSU Health Sciences Center, all students have the opportunity to engage in this cultural awareness training that can contribute to improved delivery of care and health outcomes in the patients seen in clinical practice.
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and others, LGBTQ individuals have a higher incidence of suicide. This can be attributed to hostile environments that discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. The youth population is especially vulnerable. Youth LGBTQ individuals can feel abandoned by their care provider in a hostile clinic visit. For example:
“I’m a boy trapped in a girl’s body,” a 15-year-old girl tells her family medicine doctor.
She watches him shift in his chair causing an uncomfortable squeak against the leather.
“Um. You realize you are biologically a girl, right?”
She looks down and clasps her hands in a ball on her lap.
She hears his words, yet they elude her ears. He doesn’t get me.
Establishing Safe Zones in hospitals, universities, businesses, and schools create spaces for individuals to feel safe and free from judgement. They offer a place of refuge as well as a listening ear. In some cases, it may be the only non-hostile place for that person. Having an open and honest dialogue about LGBTQ issues can create a more inclusive environment. At LSU Health New Orleans, we are making it a priority.
Be on the lookout for upcoming Safe Zone training sessions this year!