The journey of a member at HQ begins with our member agreement. This agreement is the foundation of how we build relationships and ensure everyone has the space and safety to be themselves and pursue what they need. Although we ask little of youth to become a member, we ask considerably more of them during their time at HQ: we ask for mindfulness, open-mindedness, patience, and intentionality, even in times of crisis. We also ask this of ourselves; of our volunteers and community partners; our staff and board members; of everyone who interacts with HQ. This led me to wonder: what would it look like if these philosophies expanded beyond HQ? What would it look like to hold each other accountable for treating others and ourselves with respect? What if inclusion, safety, and privacy—welcoming everyone, acknowledging and preparing for their needs, and protecting their autonomy—were standards we all strove for? With those questions in mind, I want to go through our membership agreement, and discuss how it’s not only shared expectations at HQ, but also is a basis for how I approach my own relationships.
HQ’s membership agreement begins by reminding members that they have the right to opt in or out to any HQ services. We believe members are the experts in their own life and they should be able to navigate the space as they chose. We connect with members about their goals, and then they lead the process to achieving them. We expect mutual respect from our members, and we want to understand how we can hold each other accountable to that respect at HQ. Our goal is to create a culture where members feel comfortable enough to express themselves while maintaining a safe environment.
In my own life, this manifests through consensual relationships. Consent is key in any situation, and signals to others that we respect their agency, their unique desires and goals. Consent signals mutual respect, and demands that both parties treat each other as experts in their own lives and bodies. Ensured respect creates relationships of trust, comfort, and safety. My understanding of the rights of others goes beyond what is legally expected and is more about the ways in which we create the space and embody the behaviors that allow people the freedom to be themselves while not hurting others.
In our communities, safe spaces where all people are welcome come few and far between. At HQ, we are committed to inclusion. We want to maintain a space where people are not just tolerated, but celebrated for the entirety of their identity. We believe members are perfect, just the way they are. We understand that not everyone is going to agree with us, but we know that we can all challenge each other and our preconceived notions to maintain an affirming space. Any behavior that would create an unsafe environment does a disservice to our community and our mission.
In our social circles, it’s likely we mostly know people who are like us. However, we all interact with people who share very little, if anything, with us. I know that how I approach those interactions, and the way I use my power and privilege to help those without it, is at the core of practicing inclusion i my life. Celebrating difference, advocating for equity, and taking time to learn from and about others enriches me, and helps me create communities where everyone feels like they belong.
When it comes to safety, HQ engages holistically. We are consistently having conversations about members’ safety and about what could contribute to making the space emotionally or physically unsafe for a person. We pay attention to what makes people uncomfortable; what behaviors, words, or circumstances might remind them of something painful. And most importantly, we have conversations about how we can best support our members when they’re experiencing unsafe circumstances. What it means to be “safe” can look different for different people. At HQ, we try our best to be mindful of the array of life experience members have and how we can be a neutral and supportive space for the most marginalized people in our community.
Humans are social creatures, and a lot of that keenness to social bonds comes from seeking safety in numbers. With that in mind, I believe that mindfulness to others’ comfort is vital within relationships. Knowing when my friends and loved ones feel awkward, hurt, or physically unsafe, even if they aren’t saying so, can help me keep the trust we build with each other and protect the ones I love from harm. Sometimes, it’s as easy as a simple check-in to let them express how they feel. That awareness of what makes spaces safe or unsafe to my peers goes a long way in helping people feel seen and heard.
The last section of our membership agreement details our practices around privacy. HQ is a confidential center, where members can be assured that their presence and membership will remain private. Except when required by law, we will not discuss any part of our relationship with a youth with other HQ members or members of the community without their consent. It’s important for members to know that what they share with us will stay confidential unless it compromises their safety or the safety of another person.
Trust and discretion play a vital role in maintaining relationships. When people trust me with their personal experiences and intimacy, it’s often because they trust I’ll give that information the same level of importance that they do. That sense of safety when confiding in others – the feeling that it’s ok to be vulnerable because your vulnerability will not be used against you – helps me create strong bonds with friends, acquaintances, family, and loved ones.
This agreement intentionally lays these base expectations with room for flexibility. HQ understands people are human, and we’re not expecting anyone to be perfect (including ourselves—thank goodness). We also understand that modifying behavior in this way can be challenging for some, because, let’s be honest: many of us don’t live with inclusion, safety, and respecting privacy at the forefront of our brains. But the reason for this blog – the reason we structure our membership agreement in this way – is because we expect no more of members than we should expect of ourselves and the people around us. At the end of the day, we want to meet our members at eye level, as people with goals, dreams, differences, similarities; as complex wholes. We want them to see us not as superiors, but as allies. We want to walk through life and all its twists, together. If these principles are transforming the relationships between our staff and members, just imagine how our society might shift if we all center inclusion, safety, and privacy a little more.