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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 22, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 17
SPD Safe Place campaign officially launched in Seattle Public Schools
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SPD Safe Place campaign officially launched in Seattle Public Schools

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On Wednesday, April 20, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, along with Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland, more than 20 youth from Garfield High School's Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA), Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), and Seattle Police LGBTQ Liaison Officer Jim Ritter, announced that Seattle Police Department's (SPD) 'Safe Place' program will expand to all 98 Seattle Public Schools.

SPD Safe Place is a public education and visibility program aimed at preventing and responding to anti-LGBTQ bias crimes. SPD LGBTQ Liaison Officer Jim Ritter created the program and oversees its implementation, growth, and vitality. SPD Safe Place has received support from Mayor Murray and Police Chief O'Toole since its inception.

The announcement Wednesday at Garfield High School underscored the culture shift that has taken place in Seattle, but has yet to arrive in such states as North Carolina and Mississippi.

'While we see a rolling back of civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in some corners of the country, Seattle remains inclusive and welcoming to all people,' said Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle's first openly Gay elected mayor. 'SPD Safe Place brings together businesses, community organizations, and the public to stand up against hate and intolerance. I applaud Seattle Public Schools for bringing this important program to our schools, empowering students to speak out against anti-LGBTQ harassment.'

Launched in May of 2015, SPD Safe Place is a voluntary program that provides businesses and organizations with decals and information on how to report malicious harassment, more commonly known as hate crimes. Training for these organizations includes when and how to call 911, sheltering victims of crime until police arrived, and proactive outreach about working with the SPD's LGBT liaison officer Jim Ritter.

Ritter told Seattle Gay News that it was an emotional moment for him, when thinking about how different it is today for young LGBTQ youth and guys from his generation who never even thought they would be able to be free and open about their sexual orientation.

'We are thrilled that SPD Safe Place is growing through a partnership with Seattle Public Schools,' said Chief Kathleen O'Toole. 'We want to create a safe, inclusive community for everyone and are encouraged by the ongoing support we have received for this program.'

The school's Gay Straight Alliance is currently pressing for gender-neutral restrooms and a gender-neutral graduation ceremony where the sexes are no longer separated by purple (male students) and white (female students) robes.

Julia Robaideh, president of the Gay Straight Alliance, said the situation is 'not good in a ways' at many Seattle schools and even at the diverse, multicultural Garfield. 'My concern is not for physical safety but of harassment,' she added.

The Gay Straight Alliance at Garfield has been serving as a support network for more than 20 years.

Keenan Simpson came to Garfield as a sophomore after spending the ninth grade at a school that was 'a different story,' adding: 'It was a little scary to come out.'

Social Outreach Seattle helped the department debut the program in May of 2015. The organization has worked closely with SPD on anti-crime initiatives on the Hill. For more information visit www.SocialOutreachSeattle.com.

Officially, SPD Safe Place program has reached 1,600 locations. Businesses, organizations and educational institutions can request SPD Safe Place placards or posters and learn about how to work with police to prevent and address anti-LGBT crime concerns at http://www.seattle.gov/spd-safe-place/.

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