Safe Zone Method
NIH’s Safe Zone committee used a variety of approaches including formal committee meetings via Skype, literature reviews, discussions with universities and medical schools that have Safe Zone programs, and consultations with various SGM nonprofit organizations and other community stakeholders to design this program.
The committee determined that Safe Zone participants experience the following learning outcomes:
- Awareness: Gaining insights into the lives and experiences of SGM people;
- Knowledge: Learning about SGM facts and issues; and
- Action: Bringing together awareness of their own and others’ experience to create positive change.[i]
The committee’s work is guided by the conceptual frameworks outlined in the Institute of Medicine’s report, The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding.
- The life course framework acknowledges that events at each stage of life influence subsequent stages and recognizes that experiences are shaped by one’s age cohort and historical context
- The minority stress model posits that sexual and gender minorities experience chronic stress as a result of their stigmatization
- Intersectionality examines an individual’s multiple identities and how they interact
- The social ecology perspective emphasizes that individuals are surrounded by spheres of influence, including families, communities, and society
The committee also considered several student affairs theories and medical and psychiatric perspectives on gender identity.
- D’Augelli’s lifespan model acknowledges human development as unfolding in multiple concurrent paths, including the development of a person’s self-concept, relationships with family, and connections to peer groups and community. The model suggests that sexual orientation is fluid at certain times in life and more fixed at others and that human growth is intimately connected to and shaped by environmental and biological factors.
- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders posits “normal” gender identity as that in which gender identity corresponds in traditional ways to biological sex; transgenderism and transsexuality are viewed as psychiatric disorders.
- Stage models of sexual orientation identity development examine the linear progression from lack of awareness of sexual orientation through immersion in identity to integration of identity.
History of the Safe Zone Concept
While Safe Zone originated through LGBT student activism at U.S. colleges and universities, the concept more broadly addresses the modern ideal of freedom, affirming that all human beings, regardless of difference, are equal in dignity and rights.
Challenges in Developing the NIH Safe Zone
Because Safe Zone programs began at U.S. colleges and universities and draw on student development theory, the NIH Safe Zone committee had to adapt the essential elements of the university Safe Zone model and develop a curriculum to work within a governmental agency that is also a biomedical research community. Since SGM research and data are limited, and the medical community lacks knowledge about SGM people, the committee conducted comprehensive, labor-intensive literature reviews about the SGM people and communities.
[i] Outcomes are adapted from Emory University’s Safe Zone training.