Safe Zones

For much of my service I’ve been involved in an effort by the Peace Corps to bring same-sex couples to serve in Nicaragua. Since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act this became a legal possibility, and Nicaragua was selected as a potential host country.

That effort has turned into a lot of different activities, one of which is STAR: Sexuality Training, Awareness, and Response. It is a Volunteer group that coordinates a number of activities and efforts. Most notably we’ve done Safe Zone training for the Peace Corps staff, but I have recently become the leader of the STAR effort to get Peace Corps Volunteers to work as much as possible in the Nicaraguan LGBTQ community.

Homosexuality and transsexualism are not illegal in Nicaragua. Same-sex marriage is not legal, but the government line is support for LGBTQ rights. And I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the openness and tolerance that I have seen. But the fact of the matter is, just like in most countries of the world, LGBTQ people face discrimination and are economically disadvantaged. They are also exposed to HIV and other health risks, and they sometimes have marginal health care access. In a few words, they are an excellent group for Peace Corps Volunteers to work with! I certainly see the chance to make a positive difference in relatively short amount of times that we are in our communities.

In the past I offered the Mejora tu Vida! sessions with a local LGBTQ NGO, but to double down, on Tuesday my site-mate and I offered a Safe Zone training at one of the schools I work at. And it went very well.

We opened the session without introducing the theme. We simply talked about teaching and education, what the goals of teachers and education are, and what obstacles there are. Then we introduced the LGBTQ theme and effectively demonstrated how a lack of tolerance in the school or in the community could be a roadblock to learning. The teachers were hooked!

We used the “genderbread person” to teach the differences between sex, gender, orientation, and expression. Afterwards, we did a terms matching activity, talked about being an ally, active listening, and practiced case studies of situations that could arise in the school. At the end it seemed that all of the teachers were committed to making their school a safe zone, and even wanted to replicate the activity with the students. Hailee and I couldn’t have been happier.

In the future Hailee and I may offer this training at other institutions around the city. In addition, I am going to compile all of the materials and post them online so that other Volunteers can replicate it in their sites. That is ultimately my goal.


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