A gay educator at Blich high school in Ramat Gan was the first to import the idea of a “Safe Zone” from the U.S. to Israel – for LGBTQ and questioning students at his school. “I think that every school should take part in the project,” he says.
Over the past decade the “Safe Zone” initiative has become a part of the education system in the U.S., where as part of the project, teachers and educators hang up a sign in their class that says “Safe Zone” along with the rainbow flag of the LGBT community. The sign conveys a message to youth who are indecisive about sexuality, that they have an address and a space in which they can talk about these dilemmas they’re experiencing. Last week the initiative gave its first opening shot in Israel, at Blich high school in Ramat Gan.
The idea of the Safe Zone in Israeli schools is initiated by Dan Sliper, a teacher of citizenship and physics and an educator of the senior year class at Blich, who turned to the school’s principal and counselors in order to create awareness of sexual identity and serve as an appropriate address for students. “I admit I was worried at first that they may have reservations,” says Dan candidly, “but I was wrong big time. The school principal, Zehavit Goldman, was very supportive and said it’s important that we give students a safe space. The counselors liked the idea as well, and hung the stickers in prominent places in their offices. Another teacher was very enthusiastic about the idea and wanted to expand the project and print ‘Safe Space’ T shirts for the teachers, which could open a class discussion on the subject.”
According to Dan, there are many students who do not feel comfortable coming out during their years in school, despite the pluralistic nature of public schools, and therefore he considered it necessary to promote the initiative at the school where he teaches. “While coming out is tied to many factors such as family environment, friends and self-acceptance that affect the decision for taking this step, I see it as an obligation for us in the education system to provide the best and the most containing environment so that students can feel confident with who they are.”
The education system in the U.S. is slightly different than the Israeli one. In the U.S. every teacher has a classroom of his or her own, and students have a permanent and exclusive address in one class that is used as a safe space. “In Israel, however, teachers are the ones who roam between classes, so teachers do not have organic classrooms of their own that can be made into safe spaces,” explains Dan. “So I figured that the best way to promote it is through the counselors and the managers of layers. Each one has his own room and the students who come to them can identify the sign that invites them to talk and feel safe. Before we push students to succeed in math, it is important for us to push them to be human beings.”
In addition to the support of the senior staff at the school, the project also received the full backing and support from the Ramat Gan Municipality officials, who see the initiative as promotion of values of highest priority to them. Dalia Lin, director of the education department, says that “the education system in Ramat Gan engaged in numerous educational values, as well as achievement in education. The new initiative at Blich is important and promotes the goals of the Education Division, stating that in the Ramat Gan system there are no transparent children, and that each student should have a warm and supportive place in school.”
Dan Slipher states that the goal is planned for the long-term, and that he intends to make the initiative accessible at all the schools in Israel. Currently, he is trying to promote the project through professionals in the education system to receive final approval and professional guidelines. “Ultimately the goal is to put the signs in every school throughout the country, through the Psychological Counseling Service of the Ministry of Education. I also contacted the Aguda in the matter and the initiative begins to take shape. This is indeed a long journey, but it starts with a single step, and the first step was to put the stickers at the school where I teach.”
The initiative, which is an appropriate response to the homophobia incidents that are on the rise every year, might reduce the manifestations in schools or, at least, so thinks Dan and the school’s principal. They serve as an address for anyone who needs it, really. “I think that every school should take part in the project,” says Dan. “The reason is quite simple: each school has LGBT youth and therefore it’s the school’s duty to provide this youth with the proper supportive environment.”