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Arts-based drop-in centre for LGBTQ+ youth begins pilot project

The LGBTQ+ drop-in centre will be operated from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the next five Fridays at Evergreen Seniors Centre on Woolwich St.
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L-R Shayne Ward, Sophia Thompson-Campbell and Jenn Bucci pose holding up a pride flag immediately after a meeting at Out on the Shelf. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

The Guelph Youth Council is hoping a five-week pilot projecting offering a drop-in space for LGBTQ+ youth will be a success with the possibility to become a permanent fixture.

Jenn Bucci, Youth Services coordinator with the City of Guelph, said the LGBTQ+ drop-in centre will be operated from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the next five Fridays at Evergreen Seniors Centre on Woolwich St.

No seniors events are planned at the centre over the course of the five-week pilot program, said Bucci, so the drop-in centre will not interfere with seniors programming.

The need for a dedicated drop-in space for LGBTQ+ youth was identified by third-year University of Guelph student Sophia Thompson Campbell, who is in a 12-week placement with the City’s Youth Services as part of her Youth Development program.

As part of the placement, Thompson-Campbell was asked to identify a need within the youth in the community and to develop a program to address it.

Thompson-Campbell saw there were drop-in programs geared toward athletics, but identified a need for a dedicated arts space geared toward LGBTQ+ youth, their friends and allies.

An arts-based drop-in program was identified as necessary, after Thompson-Campbell spent time volunteering at the West-End Community Centre, where many of the youth come to play sports like basketball.

“It’s going to be a good contrast, because even if people don’t identify as LGBT they can come and be a part of that supportive space and maybe work on art,” Thompson-Campbell said.

LGBTQ+ is an acronym for people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and others.

“It’s very vital to find some form of expression in that developmental period when you are in high school. When you are part of a minority group you face more issues than others — more challenges,” said Thompson-Campbell.

The idea was brought to the Youth Council and Thompson-Campbell reached out to gay-straight alliance groups within many of the city’s high schools.

The plan is to allow the people who use the program to develop it as they see fit, with Thompson-Campbell supporting them in working toward creating personal art projects.

“It can be in any medium they enjoy — it can be dance, it could be a poem or short story. Anything they are passionate about,”  said Thompson-Campbell.

The centre’s gymnasium, auditorium and study rooms will be available for use during the duration of the program, said Bucci.

The intent of the program is for it to be developed on the fly with suggestions from the youth who are in it.

“It could change from week to week, I think that’s the beauty of this program — it’s not going to be the same week after week,” said Bucci, who added: “the best part about developing youth programs is that it can be developed by young people and it should be developed by young people. That is how these programs become successful.”

Shayne Ward, chair of Guelph Pride 2018, said the space aligns with pride's shift to begin offering more family-friendly and age-appropriate content and events.

Ward, who was in high school in the United States about 10 years ago, is pleased to see safe spaces like the drop-in centre opening in Guelph.

"When I was in high school, you got made fun of for it and you stayed closeted for a while. There were no safe spaces to go to with people to talk to about these things," said Ward.

Thompson-Campbell said the people who use the program will be asked to be mindful of what the share on social media — like photos and names — to protect the anonymity of others.

“We want to make sure this is truly a safe space for them, and for people who are not out, or those just questioning or there to learn more,” said Thompson-Campbell.