A River Called Relationships: Catching My Emotions and Needs

The activities presented in this aspect help to raise issues of stereotypes, discrimination, multiple discrimination, and perception of self. In such situations, young people must be able to understand their inner experience; that is why our activities focus on emotions and needs. The activities are inspired by the basic principles of non-violent communication.

The activities provide a way to sensitively start discussing, to name, to understand situations which can be stifling for young people. Primarily, it is about understanding a certain situation: a chance to sort out experiences and share them, to name actors, and to understand the needs and emotions that young people experience. Considering the topic of relationships specifically, the offered activities give support to participants’ self-confidence, introspection, identification of key relationships, and perceptiveness of own boundaries as well as of others. Mainly, however, the offered activities help to create an environment free from prejudices, heteronormativity, and cisnormativity. They help to create an environment which provides a different starting point for discussion, sharing, and introspection than is usual in the standard school curriculum and social interactions in general.

We want to stress that the aim of the activities is not about finding solutions to specific negative experiences of young people. They are not to be understood as therapeutic tools that will help us to cope with problems.

When using these techniques, it is important to consider what is their intended purpose, how to work with them, and what challenges they pose for the facilitator. This aspect has been developed based on a focus group with young LGBTQIA+ people, who agreed to share their experience with us, and this way, they helped us with the creation of this guide. The group consisted of people of various sexual orientations and gender identities. The selection of this group was fundamental for this aspect because it aims to disrupt heteronormativity and heteronormative expectations, which predominate in our society.

When we talk about the whole LGBTQIA+ spectrum, similar issues arise with cisnormativity.

Consequently, transgender people represent a deviation from cisnormativity.

For more information and materials, you can contact Trans*parent organisation and visit their website at https://www.transparentprague.cz/.

Information specifically about non-binary identities are available on Facebook profile of TakyTrans project at https://www.facebook.com/TakyTrans/ and their Instagram profile at https://www.instagram.com/takytrans/?hl=cs.

This is not about abstract concepts that frame our society in theoretical terms. This issue has direct consequences on the lives of real people. Heteronormativity and cisnormativity translate into both formal and informal school curriculum through student’s expectations, stereotypes, etc. These predetermine socially preferred expressions of an individual that may not necessarily correspond with how this person would like to be perceived. As a result, this experience may influence not just the individual themselves but can have an impact on their ability to build relationships with others. This can create a breeding ground for psychological problems or even for specific forms of violence such as homophobic bullying, exclusion from a group, or hate-related violence. Logically, young people carry this life experience into their adult life.

In this introduction, it is necessary to note that some stereotypes enable us to understand the world and make decisions more easily. This becomes problematic when a stereotype restricts actions, expression, or presentation of an individual or group; when it is based on hate or encourages it.

In the environment that has been briefly described here, it can be difficult for LGBTQIA+ people to find a way to approach their self-presentation, verbal expression, and interactions not just in groups but also in the larger society. This is why we think it is very important to raise this issue. Yet, not just LGBTQIA+ individuals benefit from bringing this issue up; the effect is substantial. Collectives and groups, the larger society — which benefit from diversity, various experiences, and points of view — can come out of this open to the needs of everyone.

Non-violent communication is based on reflecting our feelings and needs which we experience in a certain situation. In this guide, we use the terms “feelings” and “emotions” interchangeably. Although these terms can have different meanings in psychology, this terminological nuance was not fundamental for the purposes of this guide.

When working with young people, we must also consider other characteristics than merely their gender identity or sexual orientation.

One of these characteristics is also ethnicity or association with some community. Using an example of working with a Roma community, we can illustrate the necessity of extra sensitivity and a safe space creation.

David Tišer, a founder of Ara Art organization, speaks from experience that during group work, it takes longer for Roma youth to open up, create a safe space and gain a sense of trust. Among other things, this is because of the close family and community ties, which enable the spread of information that should remain confidential and can bring the individual in question into serious trouble. This is why we must ensure a safe space, trust and set rules the way it is not possible to reveal sensitive information shared within a youth group.


LGBTQIA+ is an acronym used for labelling both non-heterosexual orientations and preferences and other identities than cisgender. 1 2

  1. Amnesty International. LGBTQI Glossary, 2015, https://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/AIUSA_Pride2015Glossary.pdf. ↩︎

  2. Čechová, Helena, and Lada Hajdíková. Duhová Příručka pro Vyučující. PROUD: Platforma pro Rovnoprávnost, Uznání a Diverzitu z.s., 2016. ↩︎


Put simply: heteronormativity means that heterosexuality — i.e. the attraction felt to so-called “the opposite sex" — is considered to be the norm. Therefore, heterosexual people are regarded as “normal”, while homosexual people are perceived as a deviation from normality. 1

  1. Teo, Thomas, editor. Encyclopedia Of Critical Psychology, Springer, 2014, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5583-7_134. ↩︎


Cisnormativity as well as heteronormativity describes the assumption that cisgender people are considered normal. Cisgender people identify with gender identical to biological sex which was ascribed to them at birth. 1

  1. Čechová, Helena, and Lada Hajdíková. Duhová Příručka pro Vyučující. PROUD: Platforma pro Rovnoprávnost, Uznání a Diverzitu z.s., 2016. ↩︎

*Transgender is a term for people whose gender and identity do not correspond with gender assigned to them at birth and that have been perpetuated by language, family, and social interactions. Gender is one’s identity which does not have to depend on one’s sex or correspond to it in any way. Rather, it describes the inner experience of one’s identity. more…

Application of the guidelines

Each technique is suitable for raising a specific issue concerning stereotypes or ways these stereotypes affect young people’s relationships. Although we developed the methods using experiences of LGBTQIA+ people, it is nevertheless possible to use these techniques for working with any group of young people that struggle with other kinds of stereotypes or have different life experiences. The techniques enable facilitators to work with a broad range of specific life experiences of young people that face stereotyping based on either ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or else.

It is not necessary to perceive this set of techniques as indivisible. It is possible to use the techniques independently: each of them pursues a specific goal and helps to raise a particular issue. Therefore, it might be appropriate to incorporate them into various educational programmes and workshops. However, with each method, you should consider to what extent is your group prepared to work with it. The group should understand the technique and feel good during a workshop. For these reasons, we provide each technique/activity with steps you should complete with your group before you use it to discuss personal experiences (e.g. before using the Dyad technique to work with our own experiences with stereotypes, it is appropriate to apply it to a neutral topic first).

We recommend using the techniques when you work with young people in an informal setting such as YOU*THclubs, low-threshold centres, and leisure clubs. It is also possible to utilize them for specifically focused work with young people on a specific topic. We also recommend this programme to be employed as a part of long term non-formal learning in groups of people that know each other.

When selecting activities, you should not just consider their function relating to the workshops but also their effect on the young people’s lives after the workshops are finished. Let us return to the discussion of working with a Roma community: it is crucial to be aware of the specifics of challenges young Roma face and how these interact with their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Being a non-heterosexual individual in a Roma community is still strongly tabooed. Often, Roma gays and lesbians are publicly humiliated or even ostracized from their community. This is also connected to the discrimination in housing, which Roma face; their situation after the exclusion from the community further aggravates due to ethnic prejudices. In such cases we talk about multiple discrimination.

These prejudices also manifest on a more symbolical level within the community. For example, tableware is designated for a non-heterosexual family member, and after their visit, it is thrown away.

When creating a workshop and its rules, you must take these aspects into consideration to ensure that young people’s participation in it would not put them at risk of the above-mentioned.


Since the very beginning of our preparations for the work with young people, we have considered the question of safe space and how to create it.

What is a good setting for the workshop?

The choice of a setting relates, among other things, to the goal of the programme. Our programme and activities give young people who face bullying an opportunity to explore specific situations in relationships, work knowingly with their emotions and needs, and thanks to this, improve their communication skills in developing relationships. Because a lot of young people encounter bullying at school, it was important for us to find a space outside the school with an informal atmosphere. The ideal choice is a YOU*THorganization building: a low-threshold centre or any meeting room that we can adjust to fit our needs. During your work with a group according to the programme, it is expected that the participants change the place temporarily with their creations.

How to use workshop space?

The choice of a suitable setting is important but does not guarantee that young people are going to feel good there. Therefore, we should ask ourselves the question of how to make use of the available space to encourage participants’ respect for themselves as well as for others. What obstacles are on site? Can we use them creatively? To provide young people with an opportunity to express themselves, share, and learn about themselves and others during a workshop, we must create a safe space — both in the material sense and the way we assign work or conduct a reflection. In other words — during the workshop, it is important to check regularly if the form we guide young people through activities fulfils their ideas about the space suitable for sharing, learning, and expressing themselves. As facilitators, do we focus on certain issues expressed by one/a group of participant(s) disproportionally more than on issues of others? Can young people participating in the workshop choose in what way they express themselves? Do they have control over what to share with others and what not?

What materials do we select for group work?

For us, the assumption of young people’s diversity of experiences and gender identities is key to working with them. For this reason, it is important to consider the choice of learning aids. When using visual materials for group work, think about what these images represent. Will it be possible for your participants — considering their diversity — to identify with the images?

Are workshop activities voluntary?

When working with young people and their experiences, it is important for us that participants can always choose whether they will take part in an activity or not. Providing them with this choice supports the main goal of the programme — to bolster young people’s ability to consciously work with their emotions and needs. At the same time, this creates an atmosphere of respect within a group. Voluntary participation in any activity is closely connected with the rule that you inform participants beforehand of the activity you will work with, an outline of this activity, and how the final reflection will look like (e.g. will they share their visual creations with others or are they just for themselves?). Due to this, each participant can decide for themselves how much personal info they want to share. They can set their personal boundaries that strengthen self-respect.

How to work with value judgements during the workshop?

The only one who can judge my own experience is me. We actively apply this rule when expressing ourselves. We use phrases such as: “In my experience, I know…”, “I feel that…”, “My experience with this topic/situation is…”, “Do I understand it correctly that your experience is…”.

With our questions, we should only try to better understand others, or we can express our own experience with a discussed topic/issue.

What happens when we open up painful experiences?

Let us remind the reader about the programme’s goal again — it is not meant to replace therapy or to find a solution to problems, but to provide young people an opportunity to express themselves, place their experiences in context and better understand their relationships and themselves. This should increase competence in awareness of emotions and needs they feel in various situations and enable young people to start using this skill when they communicate with others. Therefore, it is important to provide all participants with sufficient space to talk, create and maintain safe and respectful space, remind your group about the programme’s goals before starting a new activity, and encourage participants throughout the workshop to set their boundaries of what to share. It is also necessary to provide your participants with breaks and the possibilities to share outside a group if needed.

How did it begin?

We have tested the activities on a group of young people aged 17 to 22 that voluntarily enrolled for the test-phase and had repeated experience with stereotyping based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. As a result, we had a chance to work with the group of people that included various gender identities (a cisgender female, a cisgender male, a non-binary person, a transgender woman, a transgender man) and sexual orientation (homosexual, heterosexual).

Participants’ feedback was valuable while developing the programme. Therefore, we included multiple evaluation techniques to finish the programme with. Based on the evaluation output, we have been able to modify the programme to consider needs of young people at all levels: content-wise, technique-wise, and relating to facilitators’ conduct and setting for the programme.

We reconsidered the applicability of the techniques in the formal education — for which they were originally meant — based on received feedback. All of the participants agreed that this type of programme would not be suitable for the school environment. There were several reasons for that. For the workshop, it is necessary to create a specific, safe, and respectful space in which young people would be prepared to reflect and share their personal experiences with stereotypes. However, for many young people, it can be difficult to share this kind of personal information with classmates, because they may fear negative reactions or misunderstanding. The programme requires that facilitators — together with participants — can create a respectful and safe space, maintain it, and if necessary, talk about it. This principle should also inform the overall approach of facilitators. These workshops are suitable for groups of young motivated people — those who are interested in the subject, have their personal experience with it and participate voluntarily. For these reasons, we recommend carrying out the programme in the context of non-formal learning. In this context, we can better ensure a safe space than in a typical school environment.

We have been able to work with the pilot test outputs in a specific way thanks to the motivated participants who took part voluntarily in the out-of-school setting. All of the participants agreed to the session being recorded and to use its outputs as the basis for the development of this guide. Due to this, the guide includes participants’ quotes and work outputs (e.g. pictures, letters). They help to illustrate specific issues and challenges that young people deal with and provide valuable insights that should be taken into consideration when preparing/carrying out a workshop. Facilitator team’s quotes and comments are also included: observations on methodology collected during the pilot testing, comments on the subject, or specific suggestions about how to begin and close an exercise sensitively.

We have developed and consulted the activities in this aspect with experts on NVC (Adam Čajka) and transgender issues (Ema Lorca). This text was translated from Czech into English by Martin Švarc.

“The primary goal of the core activities is to stimulate participants’ reflection on their experiences with stereotypes and to share these willingly. The activities are based on participants’ input. Therefore, during any activity, we work only with topics/issues that are important for participants and which they are willing to discuss. It is not our aim to pass knowledge. Workshops were led in a friendly/cooperative atmosphere to create a setting for sharing personal experiences. Facilitators’ intent was not to judge or disprove participants’ opinions and experiences. Instead, we try to understand the meanings participants assign to them.”

Facilitator Team, NESEHNUTÍ

Preparing for Facilitation

Before using the techniques, it is recommended that the facilitator asks themselves questions which will provide them with a theoretical grounding and will also lead them to introspection. The facilitator as well as participants will focus on topics some of which might concern them. To create a safe space and setting for sharing, consider your experience, your understanding of the issues, and your attitudes to the subject. Everyone participating in the workshop brings their understanding and attitudes with them. For the facilitator, who should create and maintain safe and respectful space, introspection and consideration of one’s motivations and experiences is key. Following questions might be of some help with the process, because they include essential points to think about for maintaining respectful space.

Am I prepared to bring up the issue? What motivates me? What is my goal here?

Even the best of intentions and strong motivation might not necessarily lead to success. Before an execution of the programme, we recommend assessing your expectations realistically. Why do I do this? What is my goal? For instance, these questions may reveal the techniques are incompatible with the facilitator’s goal. As mentioned above, the presented activities are neither therapeutic, nor they offer a solution for personal problems. If it appears there is a mismatch between the techniques and your goal, then it is very probable that the programme will not fulfil the goal. In this case, consider whether the chosen means are the right solution.

Similarly, a perfectly prepared activity might not achieve the set goal if tension exists between the facilitator and the issue(s) brought up. This mismatch does not necessarily mean that the facilitator is prejudiced or not willing to raise the issue. It could stem from their personal experience or the fact they are too close to the issue — bringing it up would be too painful or depressing. It is essential to keep in mind that both the facilitator and the participant have the same significance for the programme’s successful outcome. Personal readiness is a part of creating a safe space.

What is my relationship with the group? With what pre-understanding do I come among them?

In their introspection before the workshop, facilitators should focus not just on their attitude to the issues but also on the role they should play within a group of participants. The facilitator’s attitude towards a group is based on his/her knowledge about the group. This is a well-known prerequisite for best practice. We can model the dimensions of our attitude towards a group with its attributes such as age, gender-mix, ethnicity, and language. Generally, the facilitator may try to imagine the group and its dynamics; this image in our mind helps us to untangle our pre-understanding or stereotypes we bring with us into the group.

What is my attitude to the topic(s)?

It may happen that topics — even facilitator’s favourite ones — may not be easy to talk about. It is important to understand why you got interested in a certain topic and how this can influence the workshop process. This is the same idea as consideration whether I am prepared to raise a particular topic. For instance, an in-depth understanding of the topic may lead to inability to explain it comprehensibly to someone who has little knowledge about it. Keep this in mind and facilitate each workshop in a way that is comprehensible to everyone in your group. Also, remember that having a strong opinion of the topic — not just from the expert position — may lead to you dominating the discussion, instead of creating a setting for sharing varied experiences.

What is my personal experience with stereotypes? How did I react in these situations?

The facilitator is also a part of the workshop group. His/her presence plays an important role in the group, especially in the context of non-formal learning, in which participants tend to perceive the facilitator as a certain authority figure, albeit just at the beginning. It is not only about the technical ability to facilitate or the theoretical understanding of the topic(s) but about reflective thinking about one’s experiences. Understanding one’s position on a particular topic/issue is essential for the facilitator working in an environment where personal experiences are shared. You may not need to share your position, but it is important that you have thought about it. If you want to share, you should explicitly leave your facilitator role for the time being to avoid giving “the correct answer”, for which a facilitator’s opinion might be taken. Without reflection, there is a risk of facilitator’s and participants’ discomfort. The workshop about sharing experiences may turn into one where experiences are confirmed or questioned.

How do I imagine a safe space suitable for sharing within a group?

We deal with the question of the safe space in the section Challenges.

Do I have enough information about the group — its dynamics and internal mutual relationships — to raise the topics safely?

Knowing the group is immensely important for facilitating any programme. This is especially true for any workshop dealing with controversial or sensitive issues such as our programme based on sharing one’s experiences with other participants. Group dynamics as well as a direction of a discussion or sharing — all of these depend on participants’ characteristics, and therefore it is preferable to familiarize yourself with them. Important characteristics include age, whether participants know each other (and if yes, how they get along), the gender mix of the group, their special needs (if any), and to what extent they are familiar with these issues/topics. Therefore, the key element is to know beforehand all the relevant characteristics of your workshop group.

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