18/05/12, Safe Spaces: Making it safe for young people to be who they are
I knew I wasn’t going to come out during school- I saw homophobic bullying and I didn’t want that to happen to me.’ (Peter*)
Last week, Billy (12) and his mum made contact with Allsorts Youth Project in order to join TAG, our under 16s group for LGBTU young people.We had planned an outing to play mini-golf on the beach in the sun. Unfortunately, the British Springtime weather had other ideas, but we did not let the drizzle and wind dampen our spirits! Instead we went to the American Diner on the seafront and enjoyed a healthy dose of milkshakes, fries and Rock ‘n Roll!
For many of the young people at TAG this was a first opportunity to be in an LGBTU safe space and make friends who had been through similar experiences.
Billy said, “I’ve only been to TAG once but it was so much fun! The organizers, Ben and Meg made you feel so welcome and it was just such a great way to socialise with people like myself.”
Sadly, many LGBTU young people do not have the opportunity to explore and express their sexual orientation and gender identity freely. Topics of sexual orientation and gender identity still prove contentious when discussed in relation to school.
There are a few reasons why this may be. There is a belief that issues of sexuality are not relevant to young children. A lack of education about sexuality means that many people reduce same-sex relationships to sexual acts. In reality sexuality is about so much more; identity, attractions, crushes, dispositions and pleasure- all of which are entirely relevant to children and young people. Gender identity too, is relevant to everyone. However, whilst cisgender people express their gender identity freely, transgender people are often discouraged from expressing theirs.
Most children grow up in environments which reinforce gender roles and heterosexuality as the norm and silence LGBTU identities. This can be an incredibly lonely experience for children who have same-sex attractions or feel conflicted about their gender identity. Growing up in a society where LGBTU identities are less visible and accepted than heterosexual relationships and cisgender identities, children may end up feeling as though they cannot talk to anyone about these issues. This can lead to feelings of isolation and internalized homophobia and transphobia.
Although the schools in Brighton and Hove have made a commitment to support LGBTU students and improve inclusive education, many students still feel that school is simply not a safe space to come out.
For this reason, groups like TAG which provide LGBTU safe spaces for under 16s are important to young people and their families. Billys mum agrees: “It is wonderful for my son to be able to socialise with a group of people around his own age and for me as a parent to know he is safe. He is able to open up and be himself rather than hiding what shouldn’t have to be a secret at school.”
Watch this space for details about our exciting line up for TAG this summer. Billy says, “I think it would be great if more people joined and if they do I hope they would enjoy it as much as I did.”
TAG runs regular trips and activities for LGBTU young people under 16. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01273 721 211.
* Some names have been changed
Written by Meg Lewis, LGBT Youth Support Worker