Statement resulting from Safer Spaces workshop

The following statement was written by a small group of people present at the ‘Safer Spaces’ workshop on Friday morning and put prominently on the wall. It was done to communicate the results of the workshop to new people arriving later in the weekend.

WELCOME TO THE GATHERING!

We’re trying to make this space as safe and welcoming as possible.

We had lots of discussion on Friday about what we mean by “safer spaces” – you can read the notes we took [nearby on the walls] – but this discussion is ongoing…

The process of changing ourselves and our scenes involves reflecting, and recognising the ways in which our attitudes/actions sometimes affect others. The classism / racism / sexiam / ageism etc of the dominant culture is something we all need to dismantle and unlearn.

We need to be open to challenging ourselves, and each other, and changing our behaviour if it’s causing people to feel unsafe or making our spaces less inclusive than we’d like them to be.

A rough guide to what we mean by “safer space” creation – a few suggestions we thought we could try out here, and in the rest of our lives…

DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS about your audience. About individuals’ backgrounds, experiences, situations, life-choices, gender, sexuality, politics, diet, health, abilities, needs, beliefs…

THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK, don’t let you knee-jerk reactions rule.

LISTEN TO PEOPLE & LEARN, don’t dominate the space / conversation. Encourage everyone to voice their thoughts. Enjoy silence.

SPEAK UP & DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES – stifling your opinions in order to be polite / “nice” / safe isn’t always helpful. Especially if we’re trying to have honest, open dialogue.

BE AWARE OF YOUR PRIVILEGES AND POWER. Recognise that our society is inherently oppressive in many ways, and we are products of our society. Unless we recognise – and work on – the prejudices and privileges that we’ve inherited, we are part of the problem.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOU ACTIONS and how your behaviour / your speech affects other people.

CHALLENGE OPPRESSIVE BEHAVIOURS. We can all challenge fucked up behaviour when it occurs. It’s easier to do this when you know how other people around you think about the issue – so it’s worth talking about all this in advance and establishing clear, open guidelines and communicating them.

DEFENSIVENESS ISN’T CONSTRUCTIVE, neither is guilt. Try to really listen to what people are pointing out to you and take some time to reflect on that.

CLIQUEYNESS ISN’T HEALTHY. Make the effort to talk to more people, invite people to join your group or conversation, catch them up on what’s been discussed, explain slang & in-jokes if necessary.

Notes from Anti-Racist Space Audit workshop

Anti-Racist Spatial Audit

The purpose of this workshop was to share the Anti-Racist Space Audit (S. Kardash and S. Lamble, 2003) with a group of twelve participants. The audit consisted of a set of questions devised as ‘a tool to facilitate discussion about the dynamics of racism within your organisation’s meeting and event space(s). To prompt active anti-racism initiatives to make community spaces welcoming and safe for everyone’.

On this occasion the audit was not very successful as an anti-racist tool, perhaps partly because the workshop was not well planned or very well facilitated. The audit has potential to be more useful in future if

- Facilitator(s) properly familiarises self with audit before workshop and has clear idea of how exercise will be structured/has clear goals and aims. Perhaps same for participants?

- Workshop minuted.

- Copy of audit to be given to all participants for use in their own organising.

- Make sure enough time is left to discuss points from audit in terms of practical actions to take.

This workshop was not minuted, so I have attempted to answer some of the questions in the audit based on notes I wrote up from memory a couple of days after the gathering. These are all based on the responses of the twelve participants as I can remember them, so are not to be treated as reliably as minutes. I was not able to remember all the responses or what was said in answer to all the questions so have left some out.

If anyone who was at the workshop wants to add anything I’ve missed out/misunderstood then please feel free. Also any other comments welcome. I have divided notes into question, answer and further discussion if that happened.

Len (hlukowska@gmail.com)

Physical Location

Where is your organisation located? What does the neighbourhood look like?

Gathering located in rich white middle class area.

What is the social, racial and economic impact of where your organisation is located? For example, does the presence of your organisation contributing to gentrification in a low income, people of colour neighbourhood?

Gathering not bringing police into communities more vulnerable to gentrification and police brutality (eg poorer neighbourhoods, areas with large none-white, immigrant communities).

However if someone attending the gathering is more likely to, for example, face violence from the police, or faces very serious consequences from being arrested, then the problem still remains for them.

Discussed tactics for dealing with police eg attempting to establish an OK rapport, trying not to further antagonise police, not being ‘macho’ when handling situations which potentially have greater consequences for people of colour or people with less stable immigration status, etc.

Is there a safe, accessible route (ie pavements, pathways) to the location?

Level entrance but narrow, uneven pavement outside.

Is the entrance to your space clearly identified?

No.

Gathering is in a squatted space.

Discussed choices made when deciding to squat and the inherent limitations of squatting access.

Squatting pros – free, no one is turned away for lack of funds.

Squatting cons – less likely to be an accessible building, may be intimidating/exclusionary for those not familiar with a particular squat ‘scene’ or squatting more generally. More likely to attract police attention. By very nature cannot usually be clearly marked/very publically advertised?Always going to exclude more people?

Accessibility

Is your space fully accessible to people who use mobility devices (eg wheelchairs, canes, guide dogs)? Are your washrooms accessible?

Level access at entrance, ground floor toilet and sleeping space. However disabled access is limited, hallways are narrow, lots of obstructions, pavement outside is narrow and uneven.

Do you have gender-neutral washrooms (ie spaces where individuals are not required to identify as male or female)?

Yes.

(Hopefully) this applies to whole gathering.

Before the gathering some discussion of whether some people may want a gender designated toilet. This was a question posed when info was sent out about the gathering but no one replied.

Not such an issue at the space as toilets are all single ‘house style’?

Is your space welcoming to children? Do you provide childcare or things for children to do like games, safe toys, crafts or books? Is the space accessible to strollers? Is there space for diaper changing? Is the space breast feeding friendly?

Toys available for children. No specific space for breastfeeding, nappy change, etc.

If a person wants to breastfeed at event it was felt they wouldn’t get any hassle for doing so, however, if a person didn’t feel comfortable doing this there was no where for them to go.

Discussed more generally no where to go for complete privacy at event, or at similar events. Chill out room but on the top floor.

Is your space well advertised within the community using a diversity of outreach and promotional strategies?

Some outreach was done, including emails sent to different queer LGBT groups including queer BME groups, different LGBT/Queer community notice boards and listings contacted, flyering of the mainstream gay scene, message boards and mailing lists.

Would event appeal to people who weren’t familiar with or didn’t have a long-term investment in these spaces?

Event could have a wider appeal than the people it’s already reaching. An example given was Leeds LGBT/Queer Muslim community.

Would have been useful to do audit whilst looking at stated aims of the gathering and seen how these interacted with points raised in the audit.

Are there hidden costs involved with joining your organisation? (eg membership fees? Are members required to supply materials? Are meetings held in venues where people are expected to purchase food/beverages)?

Event is free. Food on a donation basis but provided for free if someone can’t afford to pay.

Social and Cultural Relations

When you first enter the space, how do you know if you are welcome there? What is the first thing you notice?

People at space are generally friendly and welcoming.

First thing you see is lots of white people basking on the lawn.

What is the gender, race and class composition of people in the space? What groups of people are doing what?

Majority of people at space are white.

No general rule about who is doing what (in terms of race, gender, class, etc).

If your organisation hosts events where food is being served, does it reflect the tastes and dietary restrictions of various cultural and religious groups?

Food is not very diverse. All vegan.

Vegan food as a compromise?

Vegan food eaten in lots of different cultures – perhaps a wider variety of vegan food?

Maybe at least have a map and directions to where someone can get alternative food if food at gathering doesn’t suit?

Again, choices made when squatting and limitations of squatted kitchen. Hygiene issues. Resource issues.

Animal rights.

Political-institutional relations

Are anti-racism materials clearly visible in the room and easy to access?

There are lots of copies of anti-racist materials and pamphlets clearly visible as you come in.

Are there accessible opportunities to provide feedback about the organization?

Feedback box for anonymous comments suggested so that people could feel safe to write their honest thoughts.

This was set up on the Sunday of Queer Insurrection (an envelope for feedback). Does anyone have this? Will the feedback go up on the web site?

Images in the space

What images and graphics appear in the space?

Poster collage on first floor. This was a black and white collage made from ripped up images and posters which had been found/skipped. Not all images of people but images of people included twee images of white people and topless African women. ‘Posterised’ images.

Lots of anti-racist material visible as you come into the space. Also loads and loads of notes from workshops stuck up on the walls.

Perhaps a bit too much? Pages and pages of writing can be a bit overbearing.

Do posters, announcements and publications appear in a variety of languages common to your area?

All material/writing/publicity written in English.

Discussion about translation. Some thought even having a few words translated would make a space more welcoming to speakers of that language, others felt this would be tokenistic. Some thought having flyers translated would make events more inclusive and be useful welcoming to those whose first language wasn’t English, others thought again it would be tokenistic if everyone at the event was speaking English and all the workshops were in English.

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