This week’s guest blog comes from Fergus McMillan, Chief Executive at LGBT Youth Scotland.
February is LGBT History Month, an opportunity to celebrate LGBT life and culture. History Month is for everyone, an important opportunity to recognise the diversity of our communities. For more information, including events happening across Scotland go to: www.lgbthistory.org.uk/
We use the word ‘voice’ in the third sector, to describe the role that we play in ensuring that the experience of the people we work with is front and centre in the design of services, influencing policy and informing practice. That might include a disabled person being involved in the design of a new town centre street, a health service hearing the experience of people with mental health problems accessing support, or a young person participating in a school council.
At LGBT Youth Scotland, we don’t pretend we’ve ‘cracked the code’ of gold standard youth engagement, but we are proud of what we do to provide opportunities for meaningful engagement of young people. Most importantly, that includes all of the young people we work with, including those who might face additional barriers, like suffering from social anxiety, or having a mental health problem. 2018 is the Year of Young People and a visible opportunity for us to remember that although the experience of youth is universal, not all children and young people have the same wherewithal to overcome life’s inevitable challenges.
A recent example of our work to encourage young people’s voice is our youth commission on housing and homelessness. The youth commission explored the experiences of LGBT+ young people and housing and homelessness, including the links between homelessness and domestic (including familial) abuse. The young people talked about a reluctance to present as homeless for fear of being judged. Although that might not always be true to say of services, we need to address the perceptions of young people, which of course come from reality somewhere. That also included fear around accessing a service from a religious organisation, or one perceived to be religious. The young people also said that their need to leave home, for fear of abuse around coming out, might sometimes be interpreted as intentional homelessness. In particular we hear stories from transgender young people’s experience of being denied access to single gender services, always a degrading and sometimes a life-threatening experience.
In our recent edition of Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People , 22% of transgender young people and 15% of LGBT young people said that they left home under negative circumstances. One young person said, “Ever since I came out as transgender, my mother found it hard to accept and was very emotionally abusive. I told her that if she didn’t stop treating me badly then I didn’t feel safe at home anymore, so she told me never to come back.”
The youth commission also consulted with professionals during the process and the majority of them rated their confidence to support homeless LGBT young people as low. The young people were supported and encouraged by their youth worker, to meet the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart MSP. In particular, the young people called for sexual orientation and gender identity to be monitored and reported by social landlords and discussed a consultation to assess levels of confidence and to identify good practice. The need for a national strategy that is clear about the role that prejudice and discrimination plays in LGBT youth homelessness, was a feature throughout the work.
What often goes unnoticed is the skill and time that goes into enabling sometimes marginalised young people’s voice to be heard. It’s not as simple as a day trip to the Scottish Parliament.
For me, these nuggets where an individual young person is truly supported, or a group of young people are emboldened to meet a policy maker and discuss real issues that matter to them, is when I have a tear in my eye and go home happy, leading a staff team who are truly making a difference.
Fergus McMillan, Chief Executive, LGBT Youth Scotland.
19th February 2018