Safer spaces should be a requirement, not an option

Venues should be inclusive no matter the age, gender, sexuality, ability, or culture of patrons

Graphic by Ernest Zarzuela.

If someone is acting in a way that makes another person significantly uncomfortable, then that person should be made to leave.

Headline-worthy news last year was the Big Fun Festival adopting a zero-tolerance policy relating to discrimination. Anyone who made another person uncomfortable was first warned of the zero-tolerance policy. A second occurrence resulted in being banned from the festival. The fact that Big Fun’s policy was deemed trailblazing at the time is almost shocking.

A recognized safer space implies that the venue has mechanisms to ensure the space will be free from discriminatory conduct aimed at marginalized people. There is training, regulations, and consequences in place to ensure that the space in made as safe as possible for people that are experiencing discriminatory behaviour. Policies covering what actions and behaviours result in expulsion from the venue should be put in place and shared. This is an important step in the process of creating safer spaces since it states clearly what will happen if you commit an offense. It also describes avenues available to victims of descrimination.

Big Fun Festival, Real Love Winnipeg, and Rainbow Trout Musical Festival are all prominent local examples of organizers creating and sharing their safer space policies. Big Fun Festival has the most extensive and comprehensive policy on its website. It includes all volunteers taking safer space training, and the stipulation that any performer or volunteers wishing to participate in the festival are expected to be clear of any history of sexual or discriminatory violence, or must show that they have undergone “demonstrable rehabilitative counselling.”

Big Fun Festival also reserves the right to terminate a contract with a performer on the discovery that they violate the policy. Though discrimination is illegal and ought not to be tolerated at any venue, the mere letter of the law does not ensure that discrimination is not occurring.

It is important that steps are taken to ensure the person staying home and seeking help is the perpetrator, not the victim. Unwritten house rules or policies are not enough. When someone is fearful of an event or venue, it needs to be widely known what precautions are put in place and what steps will be taken once a discriminatory behaviour occurs. It should not be expected of past or future victims of discriminatory behaviour to assume that they will be safe. It needs to be crystal clear: posted on business websites, at the door, and in the bathrooms.

When you attend a venue that does not adopt a safer space policy, you are supporting a business that not all people can use in a way that makes them feel accepted. You are silently stating with your presence that the business does not have to care about inclusivity. While venues such as The Handsome Daughter, The Good Will Social Club, and X-Cues’ Café and Lounge all have very clear policies on their website that state they do not tolerate discrimination, these policy stances are not universal. Marginalized people looking for venues with policies in place to keep them safe are therefore limited to a handful of venues.

What safer space supporters are attempting to do is to create space that is as safe as possible for as many different demographics of people as possible.

In 2018, it is unacceptable for venues not to have a safer space policy in place because it ensures that everyone is treated fairly and respectfully at the time of an incident occurring while keeping other people at the venue safe from harm.

It is the responsibility of the consumer to support venues with safer space policies so that all have access to the art community we are part of. Venues should proactively combat potential future discrimination rather than reacting to incidences of discrimination at their venue.

Going out and having fun with your friends and seeing performances you like, attending art classes, or studying at a coffee shop should be an experience that is clear of people who discriminate against others.

When a venue does not remove the person being discriminatory, the person who is being discriminated against is forced to go home to prevent further trauma. If there are no consequences to the actions of discriminators, there will be no reason, in their minds, for rehabilitative action to occur. The people that deserve to go out are the ones that treat people with respect, no matter what age, gender, sexuality, ability, or culture.

Safer spaces are not designed to ruin venues. They are designed to make them accessible to all people, regardless of sexuality, ability, age, gender, or ethnicity. Active supporters of safer spaces are helping the arts community. Someone who fears going out in public spaces because of their past experiences of discrimination and is vocal about change, is helping the arts community.

What is ruining the arts community is apologists who excuse discriminatory behaviour.