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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.
20171102 LGBTQ Drop-In Centre Advancer KA
Shayne Ward, from left, Sophia 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 (last name withheld) 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, Sophia was asked to identify a need within the youth in the community and to develop a program to address it.

She 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 Sophia 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,” Sophia 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,” Sophia said.

The idea was brought to the Youth Council and Sophia 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 Sophia 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 Sophia.

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.

Sophia 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.


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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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