THE ART OF CREATING BELONGING & SAFE SPACES

LGBT+ Pride Flags waving in a crowd

In life it is essential to celebrate a win. Which is why, I was absolutely thrilled when Loughborough College asked me to write this blog to celebrate, during LGBT+ History Month, that the demand for my LGBT+ Support and Advice Service for Learners has grown over the last six months. As an External Partner of Loughborough College, I have gone from running one-to-one sessions twice a month, to four times a month, and sometimes twice a week.

One-to-one sessions are 50 minutes in length, confidential and can be delivered online or face-to-face. They give LGBT+ learners a space to talk and share, as much or as little as they want to or are ready for. It is a space where LGBT+ learners will be guaranteed an active listening ear, positive body language and validation for who they are, what they are feeling and how they are feeling it. LGBT+ learners are also offered advice and guidance relating to their identity, perhaps around disclosure, transitioning gender and navigating relationships, to give just a few examples.

Importantly, I know the demand for the service has grown due to the joined up working of Loughborough College staff and learners recommending the service to other learners. Loughborough College staff have welcomed me in to the ‘family’ and I have got to know colleagues, who are then signposting and recommending learners to the service. This joined up working and genuine compassion to make a difference to any learners’ educational experience is a testament to Loughborough College and to the success of the service.

Demand has also grown due to rising hate crimes and incidents we are seeing nationally, motivated by prejudice towards LGBT+ identities. Furthermore, it is because of the toxic ‘debates’ in the press, on television, on the radio and on social media, about our rights to exist as LGBT+ people, in particular for trans and non-binary people.

Regardless of whether this is happening, but even more importantly because it is, LGBT+ people need a safe space where they can explore their identity and their feelings safely; free from prejudice and those who wish to silence them. The latter not always due to prejudice, but more often and more likely, due to a lack of knowledge about what to say and do to support someone.

LGBT+ people deserve and need unconditional acceptance without the pressure and, in many cases, the expectation to conform to heteronormativity. In fact, non-binary singer-songwriter Sam Smith hit the nail on the head when they said: “We are fighting so hard to be like straight people, to have the same rights as straight people, and I feel like as time is going on, queer people are saying ‘hang on we don’t want to be treated like straight people, we need to be treated like queer people, we need you to treat us as we are, because it’s really hard”.

The service is a success, not just because of the growth we are seeing; but simply because learners tell me so. Learners thank me and give a genuine smile at the end of each session which shows us the service must be doing something right. More than this though, we are seeing consistently great feedback including from two learners who said:

“I have made so much progress since we started having 1-1s and I’m really proud of myself. Your support had made a huge difference – thank you!”.

“It made all the difference just being able to talk to someone who genuinely understands”.

Importantly, it is essential that LGBT+ learners have these feelings of acceptance, affirmation and validation in all walks of life, beyond the service. When they go through the door, they must feel this in college, at home, in the workplace and beyond.

This is where you come in.

We all have a part to play. Whether it is using the correct name and pronoun for someone, not making assumptions about gender or sexuality and responding in a kind and affirming manner when someone shares who they are; these are the small yet hugely affirming steps you can take to play your part in ensuring that all LGBT+ people you interact with feel seen and heard for who they are and most importantly that they feel safe, welcomed and belong.

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