Youth Worker Alex Thomas offers the low-down on LGBTQI youth groups and why – if you’re a teenager – you might want to consider joining one.
I found out about my first youth space through Facebook. It was a group for transgender young people to meet and explore their gender. I had never been to a youth group before and was anxious about meeting other transgender people, who I wanted to connect with but wasn’t sure how to.
I found myself in a room with the greatest number of transgender people I had ever met in my life … three, and it felt incredibly overwhelming. That seems funny now, considering that these days most of my friends are transgender. I enjoyed it so much that when one of the attendees told me about an LGBT youth group that was happening later that evening I went along. It felt so exciting to be around other LGBT people that I kept going back. I was soon asking the youth workers “How do I do what you do as a job”?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Simply having a space where I could talk and people would listen and understand gave me confidence that the problems I faced – like being misgendered or feeling isolated – weren’t just me, and they weren’t due to anything being wrong with me. They were common experiences that lots of LGBTQ people faced, and as a group, we talked about our lives and I was supported to face tough times with kind words and humor.
That youth group is still running (they are Bristol based and still going strong) and I’m passionate that other people get the chance I had, to experience such kind and empowering spaces. I have worked in transgender youth spaces, youth groups open to anyone and LGBTQ youth spaces. Through my work, I often receive questions about what youth spaces are like, and lots of people say they are nervous about attending. So I wanted to share my experiences of LGBTQ youth groups to encourage more young trans people to access them.
You can expect most LGBTQ youth groups to have time for socialising and time for activities. Different services offer different things including mental health support, counselling, STI prevention, and referrals to internal and external services.
The most common reason young people give for coming to LGBTQ youth groups is to meet other LGBTQ people. Some are confident and chatty, others are shy but, regardless, they want to be around people like themselves. From my professional experience as a youth worker, and from personally attending transgender social groups, I have seen the value of trans people making connections with others like themselves. It’s much easier to make friends with people if you have things in common and you don’t have to worry about being accepted. Other reasons people come along are to get involved in the local LGBTQ community, make friends outside of school and have somewhere to relax away from home.
Here are some answers to questions and concerns that young people or their families may have about LGBTQ youth spaces:
Do LGBTQ youth spaces encourage young people to transition?
If someone has questions about being transgender or transitioning we will answer them, however, we don’t encourage anyone to transition. We support the young people who come to our groups to express who they are and support their choices. Youth groups can be a great place to try out a new name, pronouns or gender presentation.
Do they tell parents what their children have talked about?
In most LGBTQ youth spaces and 121 support everything that is said is confidential. Youth workers uphold safeguarding. This means if we think you are in danger, or someone else could be in danger based on what you have said we would need to tell someone. This could be parents, carers or other services. In these cases confidentiality would be broken. We try to communicate with the person involved about this first. Safeguarding is implemented in every youth service. If we think parents should know about something but it’s not a safeguarding concern we would encourage a young person to tell their parents themselves, but we would not do this without permission from the person involved.
I don’t have any problems or mental health concerns, can I still attend an LGBTQ group?
Of course! While we can help with problems people might be going through, most LGBTQ youth spaces are open to any LGBTQ young people, with some restrictions on age or area. There are some spaces that are reserved for people who would like mental health support as well.
I want to come but I’m not sure if I’m ready to tell other people I’m trans
When you join an LGBTQ youth space you will probably have a chat with one of the workers to find out a bit about you and it’s likely you will be asked your gender and sexuality. If you explain you want these kept confidential your wishes should be respected. At most groups people introduce themselves with their name and pronouns, but you should not have to disclose your gender or sexuality if you don’t want to.
I’m not good at meeting new people and I’m worried about joining a group
If you can, explain this to the youth workers before you join. They will help you settle in and introduce you to people. Youth groups aren’t like school, you won’t be expected to talk or give answers to questions if you don’t want to. Lots of people who join youth groups need a bit of time to feel comfortable.
If you would like to find an LGBTQ youth group near you follow these links to the Stonewall website, Consortium and LGBT Ireland. If you’re reading this and feeling alone, remember there are people just like you out in the world and LGBTQ youth groups are a great way to meet them.
Alex (They/He) is a queer, non-binary youth worker for METRO Charity’s LGBTQ+ youth group Snap based in Bromley and transgender youth group Transcend based in London. Their favourite things are being queer, sushi and dogs.