DURHAM — More than two-dozen Durham town officials participated in a recent training session aimed at promoting understanding for the LGBTQ+ community.
Durham is one of the first N.H. municipalities to undergo the Safe Zones training offered by the University of New Hampshire Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. Lu Farrell, assistant director for Multicultural Student Affairs office said the effort looks to make participants better allies for people who identify in this way.
“This helps people become more aware that there are people who don’t fit into society’s norms, and we need to change those norms to be able to reflect everybody’s experiences, not just certain people’s experiences,” Farrell said in a recent interview.
UNH Multicultural Student Affairs leads the Safe Zones sessions throughout the year, most often within the larger university community of faculty, students and staff. More recently, several school districts and outside groups have requested the program as well.
Durham officials completed the training about two weeks ago. Farrell likened it to a “101” or introductory course on issues important to understanding the LGBTQ+ community and people who identify that way.
Farrell made clear there are real-world lessons drawn from the training. In one case, for instance, a store owner might greet a customer with a sir or ma’am pronoun based on someone’s appearance, even if that is not the person’s preferred pronoun.
“If that is now how they identify, then that can be hurtful to that individual and make them not want to come back to the store,” Farrell said, adding that there are similar examples that could include day camps and other organizations.
“It is about respecting people and who they are and using the right kind of language and behavior to respect them,” Farrell explained.
Town Council Chair Kitty Marple was one of the Durham officials who participated in the recent training held at Durham Town Hall. She said it offered lots of information about how different people identify. It also asked participants to be reflective of their own identity.
Marple acknowledged some of the terminology was new to her having grown up in what she considers a “binary” world.
“The facilitator is from the Multicultural Studies program at UNH and they (Farrell’s chosen pronoun) did a good job of communicating what is a complicated, and for some members of the audience I am sure, controversial subject,” Marple said. “At the beginning we introduced ourselves and were asked to provide (if we felt like it) our preferred pronoun. Several people in the room did not feel it necessary to state their pronoun.”
Safe Zones training sessions are given to groups that request them, which Farrell believes suggests they are more open to understanding of this topic. Rarely does Farrell register significant pushback when discussing these issues.
“When people are able to apply concepts to a real life person or story,” Farrell said, “they are generally able to find more empathy and understand why it is important to change behavior.”