Youth need LGBT services: advocate
Jen Sung is program director for Out in Schools. (DAVID P. BALL)
As Vancouverites celebrate Pride Week festivities this weekend, some young people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are calling for a boost to youth-led services in the region.
The program director for Out in Schools acknowledged education and drop-in programs exist for LGBT youth here, but there’s a big need for programs led by youth, for youth.
“We really need to look to youth as the expert voices, they’re the experts in their own lives,” Jen Sung said. “I’d love for our city to re-shift or re-approach that kind of thinking when we’re talking about youth.”
Existing services include Qmunity’s Gab Youth, the CampOut summer program and a Pride-hosted youth dance Sunday.
According to University of B.C. School of Nursing researcher Elizabeth Saewyc, gay-straight alliances in schools are linked to lower drug and alcohol abuse, as well as fewer suicide attempts.
“LGBT youth are more likely to be targeted for harassment, discrimination and outright bullying among young people in school,” Saewyc said, praising the city’s school board for its recent LGBT policies.
But outside class, for many youth attending a drop-in program or LGBT community centre may intimidate, especially if they fear harassment.
“If you don’t know somebody who’s already part of the drop-in, physically travelling there may not work for them,” Sung said.
While the Internet may offer a trove of information, youth still need a chance to find community and “people who care about them face-to-face, not just on the Web,” Saewyc cautioned. But amidst a constant “struggle” amongst nonprofits, increased funding for training and services is needed.
For David Ng, a facilitator with Out in Schools, barriers to accessing services remain for more marginalized youth, such as transgender, newcomers, or people of colour.
“Pride is a really important time to celebrate, and a great opportunity for the queer community to really be in the spotlight,” Ng said. “But on the flip-hand, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
There’s a lot of barriers for youth … If you have a centre in downtown Vancouver, how are you going to reach someone in the suburbs, let alone in south Vancouver?”