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In educational institutions, safe-space (or safe space), safer-space, and positive space originally were terms used to indicate that a teacher, educational institution or student body does not tolerate anti-LGBT violence, harassment or hate speech, thereby creating a safe place for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. The term safe space has been extended to refer to a space for individuals who are marginalized to come together to communicate regarding their experiences with marginalization, typically on a university campus. It has been criticized for being contrary to freedom of speech.
Positive Space initiatives are prevalent in post-secondary institutions across Canada including McGill University, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and Queen's University.
In early 2015 the increasing adoption of safe spaces in UK universities aroused controversy due to accusations that they were used to stifle free speech and differing political views.
In April 2016, a member of the Edinburgh University Students' Union was subject to a vote on whether to be expelled from a meeting within a safe-space for violating rules about making gestures of disagreement; the vote went in her favour. She had raised her hand to disagree with a claim made against her by another speaker.
In the United States the concept originated in the women's movement, where it "implies a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength, and generate strategies for resistance...a means rather than an end and not only a physical space but also a space created by the coming together of women searching for community." The first safe spaces were gay bars and consciousness raising groups.
In 1989 Gay & Lesbian Urban Explorers (GLUE) developed a safe spaces program. During their events including diversity-training sessions and antihomophobia workshops, they passed out magnets with an inverted pink triangle, "ACT UP's...symbol", surrounded by a green circle to, "symbolize universal acceptance," and asked, "allies to display the magnets to show support for gay rights and to designate their work spaces free from homophobia."
Advocates for Youth states on their website that a safe-space is "A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or challenged on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person's self-respect, dignity and feelings and strongly encourage everyone to respect others.
In general these may be individuals or institutions which support a safe space for LGBT students and employees. They may offer or mandate staff training on diversity, include being a safe space in the organization's mission statement, develop and post a value statement in the organization's office, online, or on printed documents, or, if part of a coalition, encourage the coalition to include being a safe space in its mission and values.
Journalist Judith Shulevitz distinguished between meetings where participants mutually consent to provide a safe space, and attempts to make entire dormitories or student newspapers safe spaces. According to Shulevitz, the latter is a logical consequence of the former: "Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer."
Journalist Conor Friedersdorf criticized the use of outdoor safe spaces to block press coverage of student protests. According to Friedersdorf, such uses reverse the intent of safe spaces: "This behavior is a kind of safe-baiting: using intimidation or initiating physical aggression to violate someone’s rights, then acting like your target is making you unsafe."
- Nicole Christine Raeburn (2004). Changing Corporate America from Inside Out: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Rights. University of Minnesota Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-8166-3998-4.
- Amenabar, Teddy (19 May 2016). "The New Vocabulary of Protest". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
- Office of Student Life. "Positive Space Campaign". University of Toronto. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Queen's Positive Space Program. "The Queen's Positive Space Program". Queen's University. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Positive Space. "The Positive Space Campaign". University of British Columbia. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Dunt, Ian (6 February 2015). "Safe space or free speech? The crisis around debate at UK universities". The Guardian.
- Mann, Sebastian (5 April 2016). "Student 'violated university safe space rule... by raising her arm at a meeting'". Evening Standard. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
- Kenney, Moira Rachel (2001). Mapping Gay L.A.: The Intersection of Place and Politics. p. 24. ISBN 1-56639-884-3.
- Raeburn, Nicole C. (2004). Changing Corporate America from Inside Out: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Rights. p. 209. ISBN 0-8166-3999-X.
- "Glossary". Advocates for Youth. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
- "Tips and Strategies for Creating a Safe Space for GLBTQ Youth". Advocates for Youth. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
- Shulevitz, Judith (March 21, 2015). "In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas". Op-ed. New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
- Friedersdorf, Conor (November 10, 2015). "Campus Activists Weaponize 'Safe Space'". Politics. The Atlantic. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
- "Stephen Fry blasted for "dangerous" views as he discusses child abuse victims and "safe spaces"". Daily Mirror. 11 April 2016. Retrieved 9 May 2016.