A ‘Safe Spot’ for Faith

The door to my son’s guidance counselor has a sign with a rainbow GLBT Safe Spot – it indicates that people are safe in speaking about their struggles with sexuality.  I support and want students to be safe – the depression and loss of life in gay identified teens is a tragedy.

I also want safety for my children who are people of faith and have grown up in a household of faith.  I would love to see a sign that says “Faith Safe Spot”. I don’t want prayer in school – what I want is safety of expression for kids who value faith. Being a person of faith, whether male or female, in the public school system in our area is not well tolerated, let alone encouraged.  Just as teens who struggled with same-sex attraction were unable to voice those feelings, so it is now with teens and their expression of faith.

The conversation I had with my son’s guidance counselor and dean of students yesterday was about other things but addressed this issue.  It was a good conversation and mutually beneficial.  Toward the end of the conversation I said this:

“There’s one more thing I’d like to mention.  Our family sees faith as paramount to our living – how we view the world and the way we make decisions is all made through the lens of faith.  I completely believe in separation of church and state but I don’t believe that faith should be demeaned and devalued in school.  Rather I feel it should be seen as another view with a place at the table.  My son has two authority figures in his life – his family and this school.  Could it be somewhat confusing to him that these two authority figures are polar opposites when it comes to seeing faith as something of value?”

Their eyes were wide open – they were listening and heard what I had to say.  I went on to say that being a person of faith, particularly a white male of faith, is the ‘new gay’ – something that people are not allowed to identify with, or talk about.  They nodded – I was speaking their language.  A language of inclusiveness, tolerance, and safety and  in listening, they realized that one of their constituents – a parent – was not seeing the school as inclusive, tolerant or safe for their child.

I left feeling heard and emboldened to articulate and fight for what is important to me. Maybe in time as I continue my involvement in the school and  foster the school/parent relationship I can ask for that “Faith Safe Spot” sign.  It may be too late for my kids but perhaps others will benefit.

12 thoughts on “A ‘Safe Spot’ for Faith

  1. I’m sorry to say this, bu just – no.

    People of faith are not “the new gay”.

    People of faith are enormously privileged by society, and are the single largest reason that the lives – yes, the LIVES – of gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender youth are endangered. Leelah Alcorn died in a “faith-safe place”, was eulogized and dead-named and buried under a stone that called her Joshua in a faith-safe place.

    And I did not hear one “person of faith” condemn that needless death from the position of their faith or their ministry. I didn’t hear anyone accept that responsibility. Just a self-pitying tidal-wave of “why do they call us bigots?” Maybe because letting families disown their own children, or force them into “conversion therapy” torment or the rest of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” bullshit is a lethal hypocrisy that has a long and growing body-count to its credit.

    It is not legal in any state of the Union to deny a person employment or housing, or the right to adopt children, on the basis of their faith. Yet in more than half of our states, it is perfectly legal to do so on the basis of sexual orientation. And it happens. And the people who do it, and fight for the right to do it, do so as people of faith, acting according to what they perceive as a righteous commandment from God.

    And I don’t see any essays here saying they are wrong. So until I do, one, know that it is absolutelt NOT OKAY to try to draw sympathetic comparisons between the real dangers they face and the imaginary problems of religious faith and, two, that you, yourself, are actually a part of the problem.

    Think about that.

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    1. Hi Daniel – thanks for coming by and commenting. I wrote this around 5 years ago when I first began to blog, and as I reread it I see why you commented wht you did. You’re right – in this society people of faith are privileged. At the time I was writing about some specific incidences at my son’s school in Cambridge, MA. And you’re right, historically, Christians have used their faith in cruel ways with the LGBTQ community. I am so sorry that my words ignored the very real struggles in the community.

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  2. Hi Marilyn – We’ve enjoyed reading your blog from 7+hrs East of Cambridge, and thank you for the wisdom you show in this piece, and the keen perception of “Paralysis in the Cereal Aisle.” That’s exactly where it strikes us, too when we return to the Land of Plenty.

    I was struck by the well-intentioned comment: “we will not use faith/beliefs as authoritative evidence to support our claims…” and “faith by definition means a way of accepting truth that is not academically oriented.” True in a certain sense, because there is no difference between a “belief” and a “claim”; one can’t use one opinion as a proof for another.

    I may have misunderstood the comment, but it might be helpful to think of “faith” as just a shortcut or higher form of reason. For example, I plan to go to work tomorrow morning, but cannot prove that my car will not be stolen in the night. By faith, I believe it will be there and in fact, I’ll dress and get ready for work tomorrow morning without checking to see if it is there. My experience has shown that its presence is not a random occurrence, but related to inertia, cause and effect, and probability. I don’t know that it wasn’t stolen, and admit that theft is possible, but I act in faith as if it will be there every morning. People “of faith” are not (necessarily) superstitious or failing to use reason. Their faith is often based in facts and experiences shown to be replicated so reliably that they no longer require repeated proofs. In this sense, everyone acts in faith to some degree.

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  3. Jeff – thanks so much for the comment. It is a challenge for me to learn to communicate clearly, kindly and passionately and work from a perspective of what we agree on (the safety and welfare of kids) than the areas where I disagree.

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  4. Hey Marilyn,

    Thanks for allowing God to work through you so dramatically. Our kids are younger so we haven’t reached this point yet but this is a great example of how to connect our needs as Christian parents with the educational goals and language and how to engage educators in a productive dialogue.

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  5. Hard to hear that the sign was torn down. In one way I think this has been good for me – I have a far better understanding of what it feels like to not be heard and to have your voice imprisoned. It makes me wonder how much in the past that I have silenced voices either verbally or internally because they didn’t agree with me instead of, to use the words I used this morning, giving the view a place at the table. As far as Jesus – maybe a picture of the ultimate safe zone….

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  6. Marilyn, NO one should feel invisible. Each child and student, especially in K-12, needs to not only be seen, but FEEL seen. You are a wise, wonderful mother.

    [BTW, Initially, I posted my own Safe Zone statement on my office door using language that said something to the effect that I respected every human being’s right to feel seen and safe. Someone came along and either graffiti-ed or tore down all the safe zone signs, mine included. It happened several times. Now I keep it in my office where it can be seen when someone walks in. It feels like a slightly different angle on the fish symbol that Christians use. I say slightly, because I still like to think of Jesus as being very inclusive!]

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  7. I really appreciate the tone and thoughtfulness of this piece Marilyn. (I assume you are the author, though your reference to white males being singled out at first confused me…am not totally convinced there’s a gender issues, but that’s a separate argument.) I have a SAFE ZONE sticker in my office, and I know it makes a difference to a lot of students. In my mind my sticker by definition includes the safe spot you are writing about: I believe every student, so long as they are respectful of others in every way, should feel it is safe for them to be seen for who they are, or who they want to be, in my class or office, whether that identity is made through sexual orientation, religion/faith, culture/ethnicity or class. In my writing classes when we talk about using evidence to support arguments, I state explicitly that while we will not use faith/beliefs as authoritative evidence to support our claims in class discussions or in formal academic essays, that I understand faith by definition means a way of accepting truth that is not academically oriented, and that I cannot imagine a world without faith (in people, in humanity, in higher powers, etc.). I’ll just add that I really like that the effects of faith can be studied academically.

    I agree with your Mom that you are courageous and articulate!

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    1. Nancy – thank you much for this thoughtful articulate reply. And the gender issue is a separate argument – although interestingly the guidance counselor and dean saw the connection- but I need to flush that out more! I brought it up with them yesterday partially because of Stef’s (my 19 y/o’s) experience and the message my kids took home (and for kids I know perception is not always correct interpretation) that if they were Haitian, African American, Sudanese etc. it was ok to have a faith but not as whites – with active demeaning of faith within the classroom allowed. I appreciate your perspective from a teacher standpoint and that you see that safe zone as something not limited only to sexuality and I too believe it has made a difference in many. There are so many things to appreciate in my kids school – it is 70% minority students from all over the world, huge on the arts, really interesting … I was grateful to be heard by the dean and the guidance counselor and look forward to continued conversations. Really appreciate your comment – in my very short time in blogging I realize how much I love comments and keeping the dialogue going so thank you!

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  8. Marilyn, Dad and I are so proud of you for speaking out and impressed with how clearly and well you articulated your views. We pray for all our grandkids, and specially that great youngest one JBG.

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