Safe spaces protect, not stifle, diversity in opinions
March 22, 2017
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It is easy to say that the idea of a “safe space” violates principles of free speech, or that they shelter people from opposing opinions. But, often, the people who feel that way are the population who would never need a safe space.
As a queer woman in the state of Louisiana, I am constantly aware of how much disdain other people have for my existence and my relationship. Trust me, they are not afraid to say as much, even if it is from behind the anonymity of a keyboard.
For people like me, members of the LGBTQ+ community (not to mention immigrants, people of color or neurodivergent and disabled populations), it can be exhausting never knowing what the person next to you may say. There is a level of constant awareness, and sometimes even fear, when you’re a member of a marginalized group existing in the world.
This is a feeling that can be almost impossible to identify with if you’ve never experienced it. And if you haven’t, then maybe people saying they need shelter from those people sounds like a silencing of opinion or free speech. But for me, when I hear that, I hear the voices of people who are tired and afraid.
No one is telling you you can’t have your own opinions, and no one is saying that we need safe spaces for innocuous opinions like those on healthcare, the economy or climate change. Safe spaces almost exclusively exist on the plane of protecting marginalized groups.
And even as a member of those marginalized groups, I’m not going to tell you that you can’t feel that way. You are protected in your rights to your opinion. But there is no protection for backlash and resistance to your opinion, and when your opinion actively disrespects someone’s existence, you have to be prepared for the forms that resistance will take.
Sometimes, the resistance is silence, and safety.
And if you feel as though that is disrespectful, then maybe you’re the one who needs to thicken your skin.