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Engage in ongoing cultural safety, reflection and evaluation

Queer Cultural Safety: More Than a Flag 

The rainbow flag was developed by queer people. It was used to increase queer visibility, and as a symbol of pride, in a world that often assumes individuals are cisgender and heterosexual. In more recent times, the flag has been used by organisations to promote their status as LGBTQIA+ inclusive. This is much needed work that is appreciated by the queer community. It is important, however, to understand that true inclusion is a complex process that involves many layers of action and understanding. For this reason, the terms cultural safety will be used and explored throughout this article. 


It is vital to ensure cultural safety for queer people exists in your organisation (according to the queer people there!) before displaying a flag. 


For many of us, we assume an environment is unsafe until there is explicit information and action that proves otherwise. Seeing a flag displayed and then experiencing overt or covert discrimination does more harm than displaying no flag at all, and is often a traumatic experience for queer individuals as their emotional/physical safety is threatened. It increases our levels of ongoing hypervigilance in a world where the mental health statistics for us are currently grim.

If you are here reading this resource, we trust that you are a good human who would like to provide a wonderful experience for the queer people in your life and community. Please read on to find some practical ways to promote this vital sense of safety. On behalf of the queer people in your life (and statistically there is at least 1, whether you know it or not), we say thank you! 


What is Cultural Safety? 

A simple google search describes: 

Culture: “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” 

Safety: “the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.”

The safest conditions are those that recognise, value and celebrate your unique ways of seeing and being in the world. Physical safety is vitally important to our wellbeing. Threats to emotional safety, although harder to witness, have the same devastating impacts to a person’s wellbeing as physical threat and a lack of nutritious food and water. True cultural safety therefore goes beyond simply tolerating our existence or minimising the likelihood physical aggression. It involves proactively seeking input from multiple queer voices, engaging in the celebration of LGBTQIA+ days of significance, minimising covert processes of discrimination in daily conversations and much more. 


What is Queer Culture?

Queer Culture has many, many positives. Imagine being part of a group of people who form deep connections with others, act as a “found family”, are less judgemental, can see beyond/past stereotypes and are not restrained by heteronormative ideals. This is queer culture and these are just some of the many strengths.   When we don’t assume the needs and identities of others, we make space for all people to come to us as they are. We provide families and children with the ability to self-determine what their engagement with services looks like and can work creatively to find solutions to complex problems. In other words, valuing queer cultural safety has the potential to benefit members of a variety of marginalised communities. 


How cultural safety helps us 

Being culturally safe means being able to share and celebrate your culture with everyone in your community. If you are culturally safe you feel no need to hide any aspect of your existence, including your ideas, customs and behaviours. Instead, you have your identity validated and celebrated, and believing that others want this for you too. You feel proud and strong, and are seen as an asset to your community. There is no pressure to “come out,” as everyone embodies these attributes, but if you do decide to “come out,” you can trust that the information will be treated with respect to your wants and needs.


Why cultural safety matters 

LGBTQIA+ people still experience aggressive and discriminatory language. Some of us experience this within our own families and many of us remember when our existence was punishable by imprisonment. Whilst, thanks to the work of strong and brave queer advocates, some of this overt discrimination has been removed from legal documents, both covert and overt forms of discrimination still exist. Much covert discrimination is unintentional from the perpetrators perspective, and is instead a result of not yet being aware of the impact and nature of the behaviour. 

A note on microaggressions

Returning to our dear friend google, a search with the terms “define microaggression,” tells us it is: “indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.” Microaggressions differ from other forms of discrimination in that they are hard to spot and therefore often invisible to those who are part of the majority. It could look like the assumption of a singular romantic partner of an opposite gender, by asking somebody if they have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet. It could be raised eyebrows, rolled eyes or frowns when a queer person speaks about a comment that is discriminatory.


What to do when you make a mistake

We understand that people will make mistakes but true cultural safety creates an environment where challenging these is thanked and encouraged.  For example, if you are corrected when using the wrong pronouns for someone, say: “Thank you,” and promptly correct yourself. If the person correcting you is the person you are referring to and you aren’t sure of their pronouns, apologise and ask. This could sound like “I’m sorry for assuming your pronouns. Thank you for trusting me enough to correct me. What are your pronouns?” 

Reflective Provocations – consider these before ‘flying the flag’! 

• Who are your queer staff? If you think no one, this is statistically highly unlikely. Reflect on why you don’t know. Refer back to microagressions

• Have you asked all of your community members, not just your self-disclosed queer folk, what their pronouns are? Do you use them consistently? If not, what do you do when you are corrected? 

• Are queer people protected from discrimination by policy? 

• Is the challenging of microagressions encouraged  in the culture of your place? Is someone protected if they do challenge these? How do they know that they will be? 

• Does your paperwork only acknowledge gender binaries? 

• If queer community members feel discrimination, who can they go to for support? How do they know?

• Are all of your staff educated on gender diversity and queer theory concepts? Are the expectations for new staff around these topics clearly stated when they begin?

• Do you thank your queer staff for the labour they do educating and correcting others (if they decide to)?

• Outing people is not okay, for many reasons. Is this clear to your community?


Where to from here? 

Continue engaging with our resource, and chat to the people in your community. The thing about culture is, it’s constantly evolving, which means you need to stay engaged and keep evolving your understanding. There is no ‘perfect’ time to fly the flag – do it when you can have a good conversation about the provocations above, when you’re prepared to be wrong and when you’re prepared to learn from the experts: the local queer folk in your community.

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