Providing imaginable futures for sexual- and gender-minority youth
Statistics show that Alberta’s teens who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer or questioning are exposed to more incidences of bullying, suicide and homelessness than their heterosexual peers. In Canada, these sexual and gender minority teens are three times more likely to commit suicide and, in Alberta, they are 13 times more likely.
André Grace and Kristopher Wells, both from the Faculty of Education’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, held a lecture Sept. 28 at the U of A Calgary Centre to an audience of more than 90 alumni, educators, school administrators, government and community representatives to discuss their leading-edge work in preparing youth to not only survive often hostile school, community and even family environments, but also to thrive within them.
“Sexual- and gender-minority teens face everything from health problems to a lack of understanding and support within and outside of the school,” says Grace, the director of the institute. “When negative forces like these are faced daily and without a sense of support from caring individuals to deal with them, teens can lose hope and will consider unimaginable options like suicide.”
Grace and Wells’ work demonstrates that when key conditions are in place to support youth, such as policy, inclusive curriculum and mentorship, the circumstances and trajectory of their development can be positively altered. Support networks, both within and outside of schools, as well as access to trusted adults, can help these youth feel like a valued part of a larger community.
Wells said that creating an environment where supports can be taught and practised is needed to make that support have meaningful impact. He talked about the camp, Camp fYrefly, he and Grace founded in 2004. The summer camp’s purpose is to help youth grow into resilience by focusing on individual development, positive peer socialization, learning leadership skills and being safe and healthy.
“fYrefly is an acronym, which means: ‘fostering, Youth, resiliency, energy, fun, leadership, yeah!’,” says Wells. “Symbolically, the firefly, like these youth, goes through a metamorphosis in which it changes and begins to produce its own light and energy. Our goal with the camp is to work with sexual and gender minority youth so they can learn to let their own inner light and energy shine bright, even in what may seem like dark times.”
At the camp, youth participate in more than 20 workshops, ranging in subjects from drama and music to visual arts and healthy relationships. By the time camp ends, fYrefly youth leave with a “resiliency toolbox” filled with vital peer, adult and community networks as well as newfound leadership skills and experiences to take with them into the upcoming school year.
Demand for Camp fYrefly’s award-winning program is strong and growing. With locations now in Edmonton and Saskatchewan, the hope is that a third location can be opened in Southern Alberta.
For information on Camp fYrefly, visit www.fyrefly.ualberta.ca/. For more information on iSMSS, visit www.ismss.ualberta.ca/. Finally, for more information on upcoming lectures and other programming for the U of A in Calgary, please visit www.calgary.ualberta.ca.