How can I make my center an affirming place for people who identify as LGBTQ?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The “ALL Are Welcome Here” poster was created by the Pennsylvania Cross-Systems Advocacy Coalition, supported by Grant No. 2007-FW-AX-K009, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S Department of Justice. Free copies (in both English and Spanish) are available to the public free of charge upon request through the NRCDV at: nrcdvTA@nrcdv.org.

Just like prevention, achieving equity and inclusivity for people who are traditionally on the margins of our culture is a multi-step process. Taking action to make our spaces welcoming to people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ) requires work at many organizational levels.

Promoting equality for LGBTQ people is central to gender based violence prevention. And making the effort to de-institutionalize unseen oppressive factors in our own organizations is a necessary first step. Going through the process of doing this internally will also help your organization to be a better ally in your community, and you can ultimately help guide the process for other community members. To get you started, here are some ideas for changes you can make or resources you can explore for each of the 6 levels of change (based on the Spectrum of Prevention) in your own organization:

1. Strengthen individual knowledge and skills: Not sure where to start? Start with learning! There are so many resources on the intersections of LGBTQ identities and sexual violence, and on nuances of language and identities in LGBTQ communities. VAWnet has 2 special collections on sexual and domestic violence in LGBTQ communities with tons of great resources.

2. Promote education at your center: Now that you’ve gotten started on your reading and watching list, pass some of that good information on to others. Forward the newsletter from FORGE or send a great article you found through the Northwest Network to your staff.

3. Educate your providers: Now it’s time to do some collective learning. Consider requesting a trainer from your state coalition or contact the community educator at your local LGBTQ center to provide training at your staff meeting. Don’t feel like you have time to bring someone in? Start by viewing a webinar recording on Creating Inclusive Healing Communities for Those Who Identify as LGBTQ together and having a discussion afterwards.

4. Foster networks and coalitions: Put your organization out there! Sign on for tabling at community events like Pride Festivals or attend film screenings for the local LGBTQ center. Keep in touch with the other allied organizations in your community, and make sure that more than 1 or 2 staff people start to build these connections. You don’t want staff turnover to lead to the end of your community outreach efforts. It has to be a part of the fiber of your center. Make sure that you’re actively inviting your new partners from LGBTQ-specific organizations to the table at the other community meetings that you attend. As your capacity for serving people who identify as LGBTQ grows, consider getting involved in the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).

5. Change organizational practices: Take a hard look at your space and your materials. Are people of all gender identities and expressions included in your print materials? Do you have relevant outreach messages that don’t assume a gender binary in intimate relationships? Do your intake forms limit people to either a “male” or “female” identity? Work together with your staff to institutionalize your practices. Get comfortable talking about things like what pronouns your clients want you to use when addressing them. Make sure you’ve got a safe bathroom facility.

6. Influence organizational policies: Time to (gulp!) take a look at your policies. Think about ways that your policies might limit engagement with your organization. Do you have a grievance policy in place that gives people the space to talk about any discrimination they experience at your center? Can you move beyond a non-discrimination employment policy to include domestic partners, rather than legal spouses, in your health insurance coverage for employees or in your policies for bereavement leave? These are all important questions to explore, and a great space for involving members of your board in your capacity building work.

This all may seem like a lot to do, but taking a comprehensive approach to capacity building will lead to lasting organizational change. It’s more effective than piece-meal approaches, and will change the culture of your organization, as well as the communities you serve.

What do you do to make your space inclusive for people who identify as LGBTQ?