Following a town hall last month that addressed issues regarding safety for the LGBTQ community, a local advocacy group is teaming up with the Kenai Peninsula College’s LGBT Alliance to host a training focused on how to make public spaces more inclusive and welcoming for all people.
On Saturday at KPC, Many Voices will be hosting a Safe Zone training that is free and open to the community. The training will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. and will be facilitated by Tammie Willis and Leslie Byrd, both employees at the college and advocates for the local LGTBQ community. Willis said that she has been facilitating these trainings since 2001, when the Safe Zone Project first began.
Willis said the purpose of the training is to educate people about the unique struggles that people in the LGBTQ community face and how their identities impact the events that unfold in their lives. Late last year, Willis reported being assaulted in her home at knifepoint by an unknown assailant. Before the assault, Willis reported she had experienced two instances of targeted harassment, including a note with homophobic slurs left on her truck and her windshield smashed by a rock that had another slur written on it.
Willis said her experience is what led to the town hall in January, and the upcoming Safe Zone training is a part of the ongoing effort to make the Kenai Peninsula’s LGBTQ community feel safe where they live.
“We’re a community of diverse individuals, and all of our identities set the foundation for our life experience,” Willis said. “The sum of our identities is who we are, so it’s important to recognize all of them. And the truth of the matter is that we’re not all equal yet, and I’ve got the scars to prove it. This training is to show that.”
Willis said that the training also includes education on the vocabulary and terminology that exists within the LGBTQ community, such as the difference between transgender and cisgender or what each letter in the LGBTQIA+ acronym stands for. Willis said that the Safe Zone training also provides an environment where people can feel comfortable asking questions about LGBTQ issues without fear of judgment or being chastised for not knowing the right vocabulary.
“We can’t answer if you don’t ask, and you won’t ask if we’re going to be offended,” Willis said. “Invariably you’re going to make a mistake. It’s not about being flawless, but it’s to give people a basic understanding of how to be a good ally.”
Byrd compared the training to a cultural studies course and said that it can help people see the world from an unfamiliar perspective.
“You really have nothing to lose by coming, other than your time,” Byrd said. “Even if you go through it and don’t agree with what we have to say, that’s OK. We’re not pushing some gay agenda, other than to be accepted. That’s our agenda.”
In addition to Saturday’s training that is open to the public, Byrd and Willis will provide the training for free to any business or organization that wishes to host one for their employees or members. To schedule a Safe Zone training, contact Byrd at Lmbyrd2@alaska.edu.