Teachers carry the (paper)weight to help lift some from you

Gender Sexuality Acceptance group restarts the safe space program


Dianne Caravela

Junior Isabelle Bukovsan points to one of the old rainbow stickers given to teachers and staff to designate their offices and classrooms as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth. “It fell apart when people changed offices,” Bukovsan said. The new signal will be a paperweight, because paperweights are “visible and also mobile,” Bukovsan added.

Dianne Caravela, Feature Editor

After a few years since the decline of the original program, the Gender and Sexuality Acceptance club (GSA) is revamping the Safe Space program, this time with a twist. The old program, which was started in 2000, used rainbow stickers to identify teachers whose offices were places students could go to discuss questions they had about their gender or sexuality.

“It was a very different era,” former GSA advisor Andrea Sachs said. “There were a lot of teachers who were not out at school, and that sent a signal to students that it wasn’t safe environment to be out in.”

The Safe Space initiative, which was being implemented in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools at that time, aimed to create a safer environment for LGBTQ+ students.

“The idea is that if you signal that this is an okay place through little rainbow stickers that it changes the temperature of the whole school,” Sachs said.

“It was a visual identifier for students so they wouldn’t have to ask and out themselves or risk divulging too much. If you walked by and saw a rainbow sticker on the door, you’d know that that was a staff member who was considered a safe space,” GSA advisor Eric Severson said.

According to Sachs, the stickers had a big impact on the school’s environment, as students no longer had to guess if their favorite teacher would be a safe person to talk to about gender and sexuality issues. But over time, the effectiveness of the stickers began to fade.

“It fell apart when people changed offices,”Co President of the GSA Isabelle Bukovsan said. “It was difficult to keep track of, so it’s not really a thing anymore.”

This time around, the GSA decided to use rainbow paperweights to designate Safe Spaces instead of stickers, since they are portable and easily displayed on teachers’ desks, but while still being discrete.

“We were realizing that the sticker on an office door is a little tough because classrooms and offices are shared spaces and not every teacher who shares them might feel the same way. We were trying to think of something that would be visible and also mobile, and so we are working with a local glassblower to create a rainbow colored paperweight that can be on someone’s desk,” Severson said.

“The paperweights will signify that teachers’ offices are a safe space without it being as blatant,” Bukovsan said. “It will be a symbol for people to recognize, so students can go talk to teachers about gender and sexuality without fear of being judged or their parents finding out.”

That privacy is very important for any student seeking answers about their identity, and the program hopes to provide support for questioning students of all ages.

“They will be distributed to any teacher who’s interested in the lower, middle, and upper schools,” Bukovsan said.

“Our goal is for it to be K-12 so that any student coming through SPA, whether they’re a lifer starting in kindergarten, come in in the middle school, or come in in the upper school, there’s a visual connection of safety for them, whether they know what that means or not. They will see this paperweight and will be reminded that is is connected with a person in the community they could talk to about issues regarding LGBTQ+ areas,” Severson said.

The paperweights will signify that teachers’ offices are a safe space without it being as blatant. It will be a symbol for people to recognize, so students can go talk to teachers about gender and sexuality without fear of being judged or their parents finding out”

— Junior Isabelle Bukovsan

In addition to the new paperweights, the GSA hopes to make an ally handbook available to students and faculty that contains terminology, information, and resources,as well as “have meeting where the members of GSA talk directly to those faculty and staff members who want to participate so the adults in the community can ask the students how they can best be supportive and best help students,” Severson said. “We’re trying to open up a dialogue between the adult and student communities to create the most welcoming and safest place for students who identify as LGBTQ+.”

With the revival of the Safe Space program, students will have another resource for discussing their identities.

“[Safe Spaces are] a place that students can go and not be afraid that something bad will happen when they start talking,” Bukovsan said.