Peninsula Pride is a *Queer Youth Development Project. The project is endeavouring to combat queer based prejudice and discrimination through the development of environments that are safe and supportive of queer young people.
* “Queer is a reclaimed word that represents sexuality and gender diversity. We use it to encompass lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex. This word is used by many people, but it is also acknowledged that it is not the preferred term for everybody. A Queer Straight Alliance is a whole-society approach to reducing queer based prejudice and developing a more inclusive society” – Peninsula Pride Website .
Every Wednesday afternoon, headspace Peninsula hosts a Frankston QSA (Queer-Straight Alliance) ‘Under the Rainbow’ gathering – an informal drop-in for young people aged 14-17. I visited the group on 29 May, to speak with participants and staff about the youth engagement resources project.
My first conversations were with QSA Network Coordinator Seb Stewart and QSA staff members Lisa Dinale and Carolyn Flanagan, Youth Health Worker, Community Health Frankston:
“What I think is really important to say is young people who are same sex attracted or gender diverse [SSAGD] are very used to being invisible in resources, and it would be a real shame for that to be the case in these resources too… it would be fantastic to have at least 10% – which is proportionate to [SSAGD] youth – visible in your pictures… And to be really conscious in your language when you’re writing it, that it’s genuinely inclusive”
“For SSAGD youth, their rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, are significantly higher than heterosexual [young people]. So the way to turn that around is for them to see themselves in publications, to feel like they are part of society, rather than some kind of a fringe group”
Are there any existing resources that you can recommend, that do this well?
“I would also say, I understand that… [the resources] won’t really not talk to any specific group of young people, but I would also like to argue at this point that homophobia is so rife in our community that homophobic bullying is the default form of bullying that is used in schools, that it is a special area that really needs some specific attention.”
I then spoke with the young people had arrived and welcomed each other, showing them the existing ‘Taking Young People Seriously’ handbooks and asking their suggestions for how these could be refreshed:
What’s your first reaction on seeing these books?
“Dull!” – “It needs to be brighter” – “Like a bright purple or a bright blue, instead of the pastel kind of colours”
“When you open it up, all it is white paper and writing” – “It looks really basic”
“If it’s written like this [holds up book], I don’t care!”
“It makes you think of exams!”
“If I read this [holds up book], I’m going to forget it 10 seconds later”
“This says ‘Making change in your community, but I don’t see a community, I see a bunch of individuals… we want to see the community, we want to see an event on the front cover”
How do we make it more exciting?
“Graffiti… like in Hosier Lane”
“A good colour scheme… the font could be bigger” – “Make it a fun font”
“You want something that’s more attention grabbing”
“It’s so repetitive… change it up”
“It looks like adults have written all of this” – “It looks like something you’d pick up and then put straight back down again!”
“You should make the pictures more relevant” – “Maybe a picture of someone actually doing something in the community” – “something with more than one person in” – “groups doing activities”
Does it have to be a handbook?
“If it was an app or a Facebook page” – “I’d definitely use an app” – “[it] saves paper!”
“But depending on how the app is… if it’s interactive, not just you sit there and read the app. So if you want to go and change your community, it starts off with, like, ‘so, what are you interested in?’… and you select what you’re interested in doing in the community”
“If it’s electronic, you can make it more elaborate and more pretty…” – “more modern” – “you could add animations, too”
“So you pick what you want to do… so you go, ‘I like trees, and this, and that, and working with kids, so then it goes, ‘Ok, here’s a list of all things in your area, or anything you could do that have got to do with kids and trees”
“Or having a chat thing on the app, so people can put their views across” – “yeah, like forums”
“[make it] accessible at school” – “make sure teachers don’t block it” – “Make sure it’s one of those things that make teachers want to think ‘Oh yeah, that’s good for our students’” – “And a good resource for work experience”
The other thing we want to do with these resources is have some examples of really good groups that are happening-
Which is exactly why I’m here today. So what makes this a really good group?
“They’re just accepting in any way”
“Good people, I suppose”
“You forget you’re gay but you love being gay”
“The way we that we run it… we sit down and we eat food and we talk about how our week’s been, it’s a good way to start conversations”
“’Yucks, yays and appreciations [an activity where each person in the group shares what they have enjoyed or been disappointed by that week, and who or what they appreciate in their lives]… It’s a good way to get things off your chest without ranting about it” – “It’s good to say something”
You’ve got a great space as well. What do you think makes a ‘youth-friendly’ space?
“Colourful” – “Wide open spaces”
“Rainbows on the wall” – “Rainbows should be everywhere!”
What does a rainbow symbolise?
“Brightness, and… gay!” – “Just equality and happiness” – “Shows that we’re accepted, in a really happy way”
“And also don’t talk down to kids” – “We’re all on the same level”
If you were going to give an adult some advice on how to do that, what would it be?
“Sit down with you and speak to you not at you” – “When you feel like a friend, they’re not a student, they’re not a young person, they’re equal to you,” – “And they’re open about themselves” – “And they don’t expect you to give them all this information about yourself” – “They respect that some people can’t open up” – “Some things people don’t want to tell you” – “It’s about respect and equality”
How are you guys involved in decision making in QSA? How do you have control over what happens in the group?
“Everyone can talk and it’s decided over everyone’s opinion” – “We’re in on it. We get asked what our opinion is”
“This is like what we want, not like when you go to school and [you’re told] ‘you behave like this, you wear this’”
“We take the whole equality thing to a whole new level. Adults and teenagers are level… It’s not like the adults go off and decide what happens, it’s like the adults discuss what’s going to happen and go “hey this is an idea, what do you think?” – “And it’s not like they stand in the corner and have their own private conversations over drinks and tea, they sit on the floor with us and just chill”
“There’s equality between adults and young people, but there’s also equality between everyone… sexuality, all genders, all everything”
What advice would you give to someone who was trying to set up a similar group to yours?
“Make it friendly, make it bright, make it inviting”
“Don’t expect things of the people who do come. They’ll just come and get settled in and they’ll get more confident speaking to other people and they’ll grow”
“Having a homely place is good… we’ve got a comfortable place to sit down”
“If you’ve got the equality and you’ve got the respect and you’ve got the beanbags on the floor… you’ll know that you’re doing it right when there’s that feeling of home”
Thanks to all of the young people for their great comments and suggestions. Thanks also to Seb, Lisa and Carolyn for hosting my visit and allowing me to interview them – I hope to use their learning about the QSA project as a case study in the final resources.