Israeli Gay Educator Initiates “Safe Space” Classes for LGBTQ Students

During his studies, Jerusalem native Dan Slijper was already an LGBT activist. He had volunteered for four years at the Bar Noar and launched and led the LGBT caucus of the Labor Party. His recent project: “Safe Space” for LGBT youth.

According to Slijper, “There are many students who still feel uncomfortable to come out of the closet during their high school years. This is also true in the high school where I teach, High School Blich in Ramat Gan, even though we’re a secular public school that supports pluralism.”

According to Dan, in the U.S. for a few years there’s been a project that takes place in schools and colleges where every educator can put up a sign that reads “Safe Space” with a rainbow flag symbol. “This sign delivers a message for confused teenagers that there’s someone to talk to and there’s a place where they can speak safely about their worries and dilemmas,” he says.

Slipper, who currently lives in Tel Aviv, presented the idea to the Aguda, The Israeli National LGBT Task Force, and since then they’ve worked to get budgets for the project. In addition to that, The Aguda’s in-house designer (Yarden Brickman) created a new design for the “Safe Space” sticker, and its use will start soon. A few members of the Israeli Knesset were also impressed by the initiative and said that they would love to help promote it, including MK Yael German, who is a true ally of the LGBT community and who is a member of the Education Committee in the Knesset. Also MK Amir Ohana, who heard about the initiative, expressed interest in helping to move it forward.

What do you think should change in the education system towards the LGBTQ community?

“In one word- openness. Many on the education staff are still reluctant to talk about the subject in front of their classes and their students, it’s still a kind of taboo. There’s the thought of what the parents will say and in general an attitude that claims that it’s better not to rock this boat. Fortunately, the school where I teach accepted this idea with a lot of enthusiasm. One of the school counselors suggested an education class on the subject in every class (60 classes total) and so it was, but I heard about other schools where there’s a brick wall towards this issue.”

It is very clear to Slijper that coming out is an individual thing that depends on many components, but in his opinion the job of the system is to provide the students the best supportive system, so that they will feel comfortable to be who they are. “There’s a devoted staff of counselors in the school who really listen to the students,” Dan says and adds: “the stickers will give the students an additional shot of self confidence to bring up the subject. This is how the initiative came about in the first place.”

How do the students react to the initiative?

“There’s a mixed reaction, including the old-fashioned reaction, but overall most of the reaction is good and positive. An essay I wrote was published in the school’s newspaper. But don’t forget that this is a pluralistic public school in the center of Israel. The real challenge will be to get this idea into religious schools and other education facilities on the periphery.”

Do you bring your personal story as an example to the students?

“Yes and no. Personally I don’t really like to talk about my personal life. But if I get asked a question I have no problem to answer, but the initiation never comes from me.”

How do you think today’s youth deals with this in comparison to the past?

“There’re things that are very similar between today’s experience to previous generations of youth. Among other things in a masculine society, the use of the word ‘homo’ is common usage in the hallways, the question of what the parents and the friends say, and more. Having said that, the openness in the media, the visibility and the internet – meaning the access to supporting sources, make the process easier today. It’s also important to mention that the internet can also get youth exposed to more bullying and sexual solicitation, that didn’t exist twenty years ago and should be given a thought.”

From left to right: Dan Slijper launches the “Safe Space” project with MK Yael German and Tamar Yahel, leader of education organization, Hoshen