20. maj 2014

Meeting on Safer Public Spaces for Women, Lesbians and Trans* in Potsdam

The "Overworked, underpaid" presentation in Tristeza, Berlin, May 17th 2014. (Photo: Tanja Škander)

The blog Safer Public Spaces for Women, Lesbians and Trans* accompanies the meeting for WLT* activists working in Ljubljana and wider Berlin area, which took place in Potsdam between May 14th and 18th 2014. There, you can find info about it as well as other sources for discussing different views on what constitutes safer public spaces. 

Safer Public Spaces for Women, Lesbians and Trans*
May 14th-18th 2014, HochLLand, Holzmarktstraße 12, Potsdam

The meeting was open to women, lesbians and trans* only. The film screening at Sputnik and the "Overworked, underpaid" presentation in Tristeza were open to all audiences.

In German, the asterisk or little star sign (*) is used at the end of words to denote inclusivity and a variety of self-identifications that are covered by umbrella terms. For example, the term trans* includes everyone whose gender identity differs from the one assigned at birth. The dash sign (_) is used similarly; to create a visual space in language for everyone who defines as other than woman or man (as in Aktivist_in). It is also known as the “the gender gap” sign.

Summary of the discussion on main concerns about safer public spaces. (Photo: Tea Hvala)

Why a meeting on safer public spaces?
The purpose of this meeting was not to question the political significance of safer public spaces, but to create an opportunity for the exchange of experience between women, lesbians and trans* (WLT*) activists who advocate and practice the concept of safer spaces for WLT* in different ways and circumstances. The idea was not to measure different approaches against each other, but to broaden the discussion about them in a supportive environment.

What does the term safer public space mean?
Obviously, it means different things to different people. The main aim of the meeting is to talk about what the term (as well as other terms that describe the idea, such as counterpublics, oppositional spaces, autonomous spaces, protected spaces, spaces by/for the oppressed) means to the participants.

Here is a provisional definition, proposed to situate the organizer and suggest a starting point for the debate: safety implies that everyone feels comfortable in the space: welcome, heard and respected. While physical (offline) spaces are at the core of the concept, media (radio, print, web) and online spaces (social media, forums, chat rooms) are going to be discussed as well. For a space to be public, it has to function both internally and externally. Internally, it has to offer a space for retreat, reflection, self-help, community-building and the articulation of issues that cannot be discussed elsewhere. Externally, it has to serve as a training ground for political agitation and education that targets other publics. From the external point of view, safer public spaces allow us to address society as a whole without having to put aside our identities; they allow us to introduce neglected issues to the official public sphere.

What was the program like?
See Program.

Who was the meeting for?
The meeting was open to WLT* activists from Ljubljana and wider Berlin area who are engaged in groups which maintain safer spaces for WLT*. It was also open to WLT* who do not consider themselves activists but wanted to participate. To see the list of guests, go to Participating groups.

Who prepared the meeting?
Tea Hvala conceptualized and organized the meeting during her three-month “Europa gestalten – Politische Bildung in Aktion“ studentship at HochDrei e. V. in cooperation with Ljubljana-based association KUD Mreža, and with the indispensable help of Tanja Škander. Both of them are going to participate at the meeting; Tea as the moderator, Tanja as the (geopolitical) translator.

Tea Hvala is a writer and organizer. She studied comparative literature, sociology of culture, and gender studies. She writes columns and essays on local feminist activism, grassroots media and public space reclaiming, most of which can be read on her blog Prepih. She co-hosts Sektor Ž, the only feminist radio show in Slovenia, and has co-organized the International Feminist and Queer Festival Rdeče zore (Red Dawns) from 2002 to 2013. Her book Rdečke razsajajo! (2011) is dedicated to the festival. Her most recent zine is called Stiff Smiles (2013).

Tanja Škander studied political science in Ljubljana and Bohemian studies in Brno. Currently, she is studying sociology of culture at the Viadrina University in Frankfurt (Oder). At the university, she works for the Office for Equal Opportunities. She also worked in the area of students’ labour rights and accessibility. She co-founded the student activist group Querschnitte and collaborated with LesMigraS / Lesbenberatung Berlin e.V. Currently she works for Notübernachtung für Frauen, the only shelter for women in Berlin which is open throughout the year.

The meeting would not be possible without precious conversations with Kathrin, Tab, Rüzgar, Valentin, Ida, the co-organizers of Red Dawns Festival and Lesbian-Feminist University. Thank you.

Who supported the meeting financially?
Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung and Robert Bosch Stiftung.