IRC Office Officially Designated a 'Safe Zone'
The IRC in Atlanta recently implemented a workplace LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and Queer) Safe Zone initiative. This initiative demonstrates the IRC’s commitment to being a safe, inclusive environment for all refugee clients.
Naima Abdullahi, Caseworker for the IRC in Atlanta, explains the initiative: “The IRC is a safe zone. It’s always been a safe zone, but now we want to make sure that it is apparent. We want our LGBTQ clients to know without having to ask or be told that this is a safe place.” By placing signs throughout the office with universally-recognized symbols, LGBTQ individuals, and others, will know that the IRC is committed to all forms of respect and inclusiveness.
The initiative originated as the byproduct of sensitivity training on the plight of LGBTQ refugees attended by Caseworker, and now coordinator of the Safe Zone initiative, Kenya Shand-Winfrey, who was tasked with implementing changes to ensure respect for LGBTQ clients. “They are mostly changes in the way that we counsel clients,” she says. “For example, during intake we won’t ask a client if he or she has a ‘husband’ or ‘wife.’ Instead we’ll be sure to ask if there is a ‘partner.’ We also have to be careful about interpretation. When you’re dealing with a client that has come out to you, they may feel uncomfortable discussing these issues through their interpreter who is often a respected member of their community. That’s why we use language line. It’s an unseen, external person and our client can remain anonymous.”
As the Safe Zone initiative progresses, the IRC in Atlanta hopes that LGBTQ staff will also come out to help reinforce the office’s commitment to an inclusive environment. Refugees are usually unaccustomed to open spaces for LBGTQ issues. Persecution for being LGBTQ in their home country is sufficient to qualify refugees for resettlement in a third country. However, many LGBTQ refugees are afraid to admit this within their community during the resettlement process. “It comes up, though,” says Naima, “When you start working with a client. In truth, we might be the only person that individual can come out to.”
Kenya is optimistic about the impact the safe zone initiative will have with LGBTQ clients. “We hope these safe zones will encourage LGBTQ clients to come out. There are so many resources available that we can help them access. But even if they don’t, at least they know now that the IRC is one place where they can feel free to express who they are.”