ANNAPOLIS VALLEY, NS - A safe space can mean a lot to a youth navigating gender or sexual identity, according to a volunteer at an LGBTQ+ organization in Kentville.
Tim Hughes works with the Valley Youth Project, which is the only LGBTQ+ meetup project in the Annapolis Valley.
The project provides a space where youths who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, two-spirit, queer, or questioning, as well as straight allies, aged 25 and under, can meet and be part of an inclusive and accepting community – something that might be invaluable for someone figuring out their identity, according to Hughes.
“That’s probably the most valuable thing – they’re free to be who they want to be, and to figure out what that looks like for them,” he says.
Safe spaces vital
The March 2018 Precarious Housing and Homelessness report lists LGBTQ+ youths within its vulnerable populations in areas including Kings County, and also states 44 per cent of those who identify outside gender-binary terms reported being insecurely housed – over 14 per cent higher than binary males and females.
Furthermore, research conducted by The Portal indicates the existence of a safe space can drastically reduce the number of people in precarious housing conditions.
Hughes speculates that the project, which also leads educative workshops on promoting inclusion, helps alleviate stressors queer and trans youth may face as it provides a space.
“It’s important for them to feel they belong, that a community is here. The fact they keep coming back tells us we’re meeting some sort of need,” he says.
“Here, they can be themselves and do things like use a name or pronoun they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Elimination of barriers would benefit all
Hughes says since his time with the project, he’s seen the number of participants grow from a dozen to over 30 regulars, largely due to the free transportation service they provide for anyone in Hants, Kings or Annapolis counties to the drop-ins, or to events including the Queer Prom, hosted by the youth project’s head chapter in Halifax.
“For a lot of youths, this is the only way they can participate and meet people they wouldn’t normally get to. They’re making important connections,” he says.
Transportation is not the only accessibility issue Hughes says queer and trans youth are facing. Healthcare and education systems still retain barriers, like intake forms and identification requiring people to choose between the binary male and female genders.
Hughes points to research showing the elimination of such barriers and promotion of inclusion benefits, not just queer and trans people, but everyone, and its role in the reduction of suicidal ideations and self-harm.
“For youth that come from supportive families, or who have support services, self-harm is greatly reduced. While I can only speculate that having any refuge where somebody can be the person they identify as would be supportive,” he says.