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Thoughts on the Safety Pin

27 Nov

Since Brexit an interesting phenomenon has appeared – the use of the once innocuous safety pin as a symbol of safe space. It has popped up in the USA post-election as well.


It’s heartening to see people recognizing that spaces are not safe for everyone. Check.     It’s also great to see that people are recognizing that those who don’t feel safe need allies. An ally is someone who stands up for and speaks up for those who are being victimized, oppressed, marginalized, harassed, harmed, etc because of who they are. Check.

Those are the good things about the safety pin phenomenon, and if it’s helping to make people more aware of, sensitive to, and likely to intervene re: racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc. when they see/hear it, then that is a step in the right direction. IF however, they are a cute symbol to pin on and show that one is supportive and an ally – and it’s not backed by awareness and followed by action, then they are dangerous and misleading and actually making spaces LESS safe.

Often we think of isms, oppression or marginalization as individual and personal, requiring an individual response. But there are other more insidious ways that undermine people’s safety- and these are systemic. Speaking up and standing up against those are also necessary – and more challenging because it’s hard to see these inequities if they are not impacting you. And so often they are not seen, and not spoken up or stood up against.

Which is where the safety pin causes some consternation and anger.

Unsafe spaces did not begin with Brexit or the US election. They have existed for too many years. Some see the safety pin and wonder where it (and more importantly, the sentiment) has been all this time – this symbol and expression of solidarity, safety and the promise of allyship. It’s a good question.

Wearing a safety pin also suggests that someone can know what a safe space feels like for someone else, which is questionable. But if we ask questions, and learn about each other, we can perhaps help to make spaces safer.

In the end, I’m torn about the safety pin.

I understand the anger about it. That it seems like the fashionable “in” thing to do, that it’s easy and safe for the person wearing it, that it is a pin rather than action.                    And I hope that maybe it’s also the beginning of people seeing more, of considering how different life can be experienced, of speaking up and stepping up against the isms, the phobias – against hatred. Some people may be late to the game, but if they are ready to play, then there will be more allies on the team. And isn’t that a good thing?

The safety pin could be an amazing symbol of action, mobilization, solidarity, courage, and hope. But to accomplish this is requires awareness of self and others, understanding the bigger picture, recognizing your privilege and using it to create change (among other things). It could signal a much needed change in how we see each other, what we notice and what we fight for and against – to make the world a much safer place for everyone.

But if you aren’t educating yourself about the issues, if you don’t know what it means to be an ally, if you’re not willing to step up and stand up, then it’s just a cool thing to do that will pass when you get bored or you think enough time has passed – in which case, please don’t wear one.

Either way, I encourage you to be open to hearing people’s reactions to them, and being willing to have a conversation about it – in order to see more and learn more about the people around you.

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion


Hydro One’s Stand Against Sexual Harassment

14 May

If you haven’t been following the news, after Shauna Hunt – a CityNews reporter – was heckled by TFC fans, one of them was identified as a Hydro One employee and subsequently fired.

Apparently this heckling of female reporters is a new trend that began last year.
It’s sexual harassment.
And the fact that it is a trend, is even more disturbing.


Hydro One drew a hard line in the sand. This could be good for their employees and for a safer and more respectful workplace environment – if it’s a line that informs their workplace in daily practice as well as in policy.

Inclusive and safe workplaces are an ongoing commitment. Policies are an important part of that commitment, but it certainly doesn’t end there. New employees have to read and sign policies to show they agree to abide by them. And then these policies must be reviewed regularly, to ensure that:

a) employees remember what they signed and what the policies say
b) employees that are victims of (in this case) harassment know what the policies say and how they are supported
c) any questions can be answered and situations can be discussed.

The last point is important because intervention is part of creating and keeping a safe and inclusive environment. Giving employees the opportunity to think  about, discuss, or even role play situations that they may find themselves in or witness, helps to increase comfort in dealing with these if they occur. And stepping in when someone is being disrespected helps to make workplaces safer.

So, congratulations Hydro One in taking a public stand.
And here is hoping that it’s a stand your employees feel every day.

See more.

copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Facilitator, Speaker and Author on issues of Diversity & Inclusion.

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