Exploring who you are is a crucial part of growing up, yet spaces where young people can discover themselves aren’t always readily available.
Research has found that LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to worry about their mental health and loneliness – with over half (55%) of LGBT+ young people worrying daily, compared to just a quarter (26%) of non-LGBT+ young people. It’s vital that LGBT+ people can explore their identities and find and be themselves in safe places with trusted people who will listen to and support them.
Youth centres and youth workers play an essential role in creating communities where young people can work through their emotions and questions and explore their identities.
We celebrate the LGBTQ+ community all year round, with LGBT+ History Month being a critical focus time for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and for allies to recognise the impact LGBTQ+ people have had locally, nationally, and globally. Though many great strides have been made, the current conversation about Trans rights is a reminder that we aren’t yet living in a truly equal society, and we must stand as allies with LGBTQ+ people.
Our priority at The Hive, Wirral Youth Zone, is to create a welcoming youth centre space for all young people. Inclusion is the norm for us, as it should be. As you walk around, you’ll see the artwork of changemakers from the LGBTQ+ community. Our members can see these positive role models and know they can make a difference. All youth workers and staff have lanyards with their pronouns and are invited to wear badges expressing how they identify within the LGBTQ+ community, if comfortable.
Young people need to see themselves represented in the people they engage with. We have a brilliantly diverse team of youth workers, and it’s reassuring for young people to be able to speak to someone they relate to and who may have gone through similar experiences. It can also help them develop an understanding and respect for different backgrounds.
Our wellbeing room is a hub where many conversations on issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community take place, celebrating the community, discussing topics like healthy relationships, sexual health, and exploring identity.
Like many Youth Zones, we have an LGBTQ+ support group that meets weekly for two hours. This is primarily a space for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and young people exploring their identity, with some referred in by their youth worker. To ensure we provide the best and appropriate support, working with external partners is vital, and we have great relationships with The Proud Trust and Brook Sexual Health & Wellbeing.
Our youth workers teach our members about being better allies and, in turn, better friends to peers on their journey to explore their identities. We want to normalise standing up and being an ally for all and how that helps us and others in becoming the best versions of ourselves.
Young people deserve a safe environment to explore their sexuality, so we constantly challenge ill-judged remarks and educate them on why specific comments are problematic. Our members know the behaviours expected of them when they enter a one of our Youth Zones. We also encourage our members to hold themselves to account, for example, by showing how they can productively challenge biases.
There is always more to do and more to know. By working together, being open to listening and learning, and challenging unhelpful behaviours, we can all be better allies and make a difference in our communities.