Diversity and Civil Space

By Fulterius King, Better Together Interfaith Leadership Program Intern

On Wednesday, October 28th, The LGBT Resource Center and Interfaith Center at UNF co-hosted an event called “#TFWednesday.” This event is held on second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. The purpose of this event was to explain gender roles and gender identity from a cultural perspective and recognize various ways in which societal attitudes contribute to oppression individuals who do not identify with being completely male or female experience. I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion about issues related to the pressures of conforming to male or female roles and the way in which mainstream media, and other institutions, ignore gender diversity and inclusion. For example, many sex education programs tend to ignore topics related to nonconforming gender persons by primarily focusing on contraception, safe sex, and heteronormative experiences.

First, I presented and explained a gender spectrum to attendants. “Male” was pictured on one side of the spectrum; “androgynous” was centered on the scale; and “female” was described on the opposite end of male. Attendants were given pictures and phrases that included stereotypical gender behaviors and roles. For example, an attendant may have received a picture of a lip stick or a skateboard or a phrase that stated “take selfies.” They had to place the picture or phrase somewhere on the gender spectrum and explain their reason why it was either a more male or female trait (or somewhere in between the two). The participants’ experiences behind their reasoning varied, but most of the stereotypical gender roles and behaviors were either very close, or directly under, the respective genders (male or female).

My aim for the gender spectrum activity was to help students realize how society marginalizes people with complex identities by forcing them to conform to either male or female genders. After pointing out this issue, I discussed with attendants that there are more than female and male genders, such as people who are transgender or individuals who do not identify with any gender. This sparked an interesting discussion. There was one person in particular who strongly believed that “transgender” should not be considered a gender type while others argued that it should be included and even recognized as much as male and female genders. This discussion progressively turned into a debate and people started to feel uncomfortable as civil discourse guidelines were violated. This hindered others to participate. At first I was disappointed that this event ended in a negative atmosphere, but am now grateful as it reinforced in me the importance of effectively handling conflict and different opinions. I learned that it is imperative that all attendants adhere to civil discourse or safe space guidelines when participating in these discussions. I also learned that conflict may arise when attendants’ beliefs varyand that facilitators and staff must be prepared when this occurs. Since this event, the Interfaith Center and LGBT Resource Center has revised this program’s agenda to maintain civil discussions in a safe environment.

It is important to note that participants will not be discouraged to voice their difference in opinion or beliefs and that the primary lesson in this situation is to effectively enforce and regulate guidelines for safe space and civil discourse. This is a valuable experience as it enhanced my skill and competence in communicating with others who hold beliefs counter to my own.

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