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Ready for a little adventure into the world of safe spaces? Join us as we explore the ins and outs of creating supportive environments where you can be your fabulous, authentic self without fear of judgement! Let’s make the world a bit more colourful and kind, one safe space at a time! 🌈✨
So, what do we mean when we talk about feeling safe? Why don’t we feel safe already? Chris, Jenny and Twyla talk look at barriers to safety and what you can do to address these in our next video:
Mali: Barriers to Access can start at home, if a young person has struggled to voice their identity to their family because they are scared of being rejected or disowned and at risk of being made homeless. Fear can also affect how much they feel they can confide in you, and they may have felt shame too. They may have felt threatened at home or in their local area. As one young person told us, ‘some spaces only become safe when other people leave.’
Chris: The space you provide may be their only safe place. To take a quote from one of our engagement sessions, “It’s hard to call a crisis line with family around because conversations about mental health don’t occur often in the family or in a positive light. Also, it’s difficult because they might overhear that I identify as LGBTQIA+. A safe space is somewhere I can get away and decompress; where I don’t have to worry about people listening in and what their response may be. I want to be open and unapologetically myself.”
Twyla: Crisis looks different for everybody. Part of who we are is how we communicate. “Neurodivergent” people are those whose brain differences affect how their brain works, perhaps they are autistic or have ADHD. That means they have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains don’t have those differences who are known as neurotypical. They may have had the added pressure of masking, feeling the need to camouflage in social situations to appear like other neurotypical people. We discussed this with a group of young people, and heard from one that: ‘I was already unsure of where I fit in socially, not knowing at the time that part of this was due to being neurodivergent, as well as a fear of not being accepted by my peers for my sexuality.”
Jenny: Inclusivity makes a big difference. English may not be the person’s first language and they may need an interpreter. Understanding how people like to communicate, maybe with visual aids or with a British Sign Language interpreter, helps everyone with sharing the information that’s important. One young person chose to write about their experiences growing up and the questions they had about being trans.
Mali: A barrier may be the location of where the person lives, causing problems getting to where they can feel safe and find help, especially if they live in rural areas and away from the bigger cities. Some services may only be available in some geographical locations. It also may be that they can only access services if they are able to identify as LGBTQIA+ – but they may not yet be in a position to be able to do that.
Chris: When I was 16 I was given a self referral leaflet for adults. I also found my initial support was cut off and that was really difficult. I wasn’t able to access resources I needed because I wasn’t the right age or didn’t live in the right area. I felt I needed consistency with who I spoke with. Person centred care makes a massive difference.
Twyla: Age can also be a barrier for different reasons. The age of the person supporting us will impact their experience and attitudes, that may align or may differ from our own.
Mali: Young people may use online platforms which can be a good support network, sometimes because they provide anonymity and a space ‘to be who you are’ but there can be bullying online too, and the loss of friends online can be devastating and needs to be taken seriously, even though they may have never met in real life.
Chris: We know from the discussions we had with many young people that they have a much better experience when the support they are given acknowledges the overlap of different aspects of their lives. For someone having a difficult time it’s hard to compartmentalise when you are struggling – they may need help because of their feelings about their sexual/gender identity, but also ethnic identity or issues facing that. For example, one young person reported that they do not feel safe disclosing to some of their ethnic community that they identify as LGBTQIA+ because this conflicts with their religious beliefs. This can create extra barriers when English is a second language or an interpreter is required to support someone in crisis.
Twyla: It can be hard to find resources that are tailored to ethnicity and sexual identity. We know from our discussions with professionals that there is a lack of diversity and recognition of different cultures in the help they can offer. This can cause more challenges when a young person is already feeling very isolated. We spoke with someone who told us, ’I feel like I cannot come out and I have no one to disclose my identity to within my culture.’ Our cultural background should be considered as it influences our experiences.
Jenny: We also heard from a young person in a workshop that, “people may dismiss religion and religious beliefs because they don’t share them, but that doesn’t make the situation any better for you as a young person who may feel conflicted. Sometimes people of faith are overlooked as we’re not seen as part of the society. A young person may be worried about being judged by their faith community. They may struggle with questions like, ‘can I be part of a religious community and be gay?’ I think learning more about how to deal with people from ethnic backgrounds with strong faith culture is really important.”
Mali: There are such strong beliefs in many religious cultures around LGBTQIA+ identity that there can be the threat of being made to leave home due to homophobia and transphobia. Young people can sometimes feel pressure of coming out when they are not ready or in unsafe environments. Or they may not feel it is possible to come out and this can add to how much they feel they can confide in you.
Chris: All of these things don’t take away from the fact that although there may be many things going on for us we are still individuals who appreciate kindness. As one professional says: “I don’t think any subject is difficult if you just listen, give the time that is needed, be open and non-judgemental. Giving young people a space/environment in which they feel safe is key.”
Twyla: Being clear about how you can help us as we work out how we fit into the world is really positive.
“A safe space is somewhere I can get away and decompress, where I don’t have to worry about people listening in, and what their response may be”
Safe spaces are essential for young people like us, because they provide an environment where we feel protected from discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm. These spaces can be physical, mental, or even virtual, and they’re all equally important. When we’re in a safe space, we can be our unapologetic selves without fearing judgement. Sometimes, we might feel pressured to come out when we’re not ready or in an unsafe environment. By creating and maintaining safe spaces, you can help ease this pressure and encourage us to continue accessing support.
Accessibility is crucial for safe spaces, as they should cater to everyone’s needs, including those of neurodivergent individuals. It’s important to consider our unique identities and how they might impact our experiences and needs. One resource that highlights the importance of safe spaces can be found at the following link: On the importance of safe spaces.
If a safe space isn’t created, it can result in a behaviour called masking, where we feel compelled to hide our true selves to appear “normal”. Masking is common among neurodivergent individuals, who might feel the need to camouflage in social situations to blend in with neurotypical people. This can also be seen in young LGBTQIA+ people regarding their sexuality or gender. A resource that delves into the topic of autism masking can be found here: Autism Masking: To Blend or Not to Blend.
To minimise masking, it’s essential to be patient, receptive, and non-judgemental when we confide in you. Stonewall’s 2017 report on LGBT hate crime and discrimination in Britain provides valuable insights on the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community: LGBT in Britain – Hate crime and discrimination.
By understanding and addressing our needs, you can create a truly inclusive and supportive environment for us to thrive.
- Each young person’s experiences are different and it is both validating and helpful when experiences are not generalised.
- Acknowledging your own lack of confidence or experience, and how that could make providing support challenging, is important. It promotes honest and collaborative working with us.
- Fear, influenced by past experiences, can also affect how much we feel we can confide in you and voice our identity. We may also feel shame about this.
- The space (physical or virtual) that you provide for us may be the only safe place we have.