LGBTQ Center hosts ‘Queering Spaces’ to discuss safe spaces

Students view photos of locations with history of hate crimes at University


Queer & Allied Activism hosted an event Wednesday titled “Queering Spaces” to discuss hate crimes at the University as a part of LGBTQ Pride Week.

The event featured a photo presentation of locations around Grounds and Charlottesville where hate crimes and bias-related incidents have occurred, followed by an open discussion among students about what constitutes a safe space and how to make the University safer for LGBTQ students and other minority groups.

“[The event] is really meant to bring about that question in your mind as to, ‘What is a safe space for me’… and how do we go about making those spaces or places more safe for us as a community,” said Scott Rheinheimer, coordinator for LGBTQ student services.

QUAA compiled a list of places where bias-related incidents have occurred in the past and took photos of the locations holding a sign that read, “This is not a safe space.” These locations included the Corner, Rugby Road, Beta Bridge, Scott Stadium and the Lawn.

“We’re hoping that will spark submissions for people to voice where they think they don’t feel safe, and we’re going to compile that on our QUAA blog,” said QUAA President Greg Lewis, a third-year College student. “Then the discussion will focus on this campaign, these spaces and ways to make U.Va. a more comfortable environment for minority communities — especially queer students.”

At the event, students sat together in small discussion groups while the photo presentation continued to play. Students discussed safety on the basis of identity and performance.

“You can be gay and go to a lot of these places [in Charlottesville], but if you express identity in another way, it’s completely unacceptable,” fourth-year College student Ryan Leach said.

While targeting LGBTQ students, the event was also expanded to discussions about other minority groups that may feel unsafe in certain places in the University area.

“[There’s] not much discussion of intersectionality,” Leach said.

Students also discussed how they could make spaces around Grounds and Charlottesville LGBTQ-friendly and safe.

“Different spaces have different ways to be queered,” fourth-year College student Brendan Wynn said.

Wynn said in an administrative space, there can be a sign or a sticker to signify a safe space. However, in more spontaneous situations — like when an outside hate group came to Grounds and used the Amphitheatre to exercise hate speech Wednesday afternoon — there cannot be a planned ally like in a faculty office.

Discussion then turned to University culture and how it fosters safe spaces.

“There’s a huge tendency to label certain spaces as unsafe that helps contribute to students not going to those places,” said second-year College student Carrie Myatt, who helped to plan the event. “People avoid the Corner, which I think is a real problem because the Corner is considered one of the most important business areas for U.Va. students. [It’s] very much a part of the culture.”

Students even questioned the idea of having a truly safe space with the constant possibility of assault or oppression from others.

Leach said making dramatic statements which will generate discussion and disagreement is a step in the right direction for change.

“[It] makes great conversation happen,” he said.

Leach said Wednesday’s protest incident garnered participation from many individuals who would not likely come to an event discussing LGBTQ rights. Myatt, meanwhile, said she hopes this event will inspire conversation about problems at the University.

“[There’s] really no way to change it administratively, so the only way we can really change it is by changing the culture,” she said. “Part of this campaign is to point out flaws in the culture — that’s really the first step toward making a change.”

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