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CEO blog: Nurturing Identity and Inclusivity – The Vital Role of Youth Centres in Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth

20th June 2023 by Jamie Masraff, Chief Executive, Onside

Pride Season is a reminder that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Despite the progress made in recent decades, not all young people feel safe and supported in their identities. According to a recent report by the charity Just like Us, young LGBTQ+ people who weren’t supported at home and school are more than twice as likely to have had suicidal thoughts and feelings than supported peers. For young LGBTQ+ people who lack support at home or at school, finding a safe place to be themselves is so important. Thankfully, youth centres across the country play exactly this role – a safe space where young people are supported by trusted youth workers.

Youth workers support young people from the LGBTQ+ community – as they form consistent, trusted, and caring relationships, that enable young people to explore their identities confidently. Having a trusted youth worker is immensely valuable for those facing stigma and challenges. I hear powerful stories from across the Network of how this plays out practically, from gender nonbinary young people developing the confidence to be themselves through to young people being supported to affirm their gender identity or sexual orientation to their families. Young people like AJ*, who with the support of friends and staff at Carlisle Youth Zone, overcame challenges with their gender identity, embracing self-acceptance and finding comfort in being their authentic self, knowing they are free to explore and grow without fear of judgment.

Many Youth Zones have weekly LGBTQ+ member groups, and Youth Zones also team up with expert partners like the Proud Trust to support enabling LGBTQ+ members to benefit from their knowledge and experience.

While the pandemic may feel like a distant memory, we must not forget its profound impact, especially on marginalised communities. Young LGBTQ+ people were hit particularly hard, experiencing higher rates of loneliness, disconnection, and mental health issues. Less than half of gay, bisexual or trans people feel able to be open about their sexual orientation or identity with their family. This absence of support systems to discuss their identities at home made lockdowns even more challenging. During this time, Youth Zones went above and beyond to support all young people, particularly those from the LGBTQ+ community. Wellbeing calls and online sessions acted as lifelines providing much-needed support and connection, combating loneliness, and promoting mental well-being.

Building an inclusive culture where everyone feels understood and free to be themselves is at the very heart of Youth Zones and OnSide. We strive to create an inclusive work culture where everyone feels they can be their authentic selves and give their best at work. While positive strides have been made, much work remains, and significant societal issues require ongoing commitment and effort. As a charity, we acknowledge the importance of continuously working towards inclusivity and would love to invite others on this journey to share their experiences. If you have implemented inclusive practices or have learned valuable lessons, we would love to hear from you.

So this Pride Season and beyond, Youth Zones and youth centres across the country serve as extraordinary spaces that allow young people to explore and develop their identities in a safe environment. But there’s an urgent need for more of these inclusive havens that combat loneliness, prioritise mental wellbeing, and provide essential support – that’s why we’re committed to doubling the number of young people we work with over the next five years. You can find out how you can join our movement here: https://www.onsideyouthzones.org/help-grow-onside-network/

*name has been changed.

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