A Wagga man has decided to set up an LGBT-friendly youth group to create a safe space for teens.
Stephen Thompson’s concept attracted a lot of attention when he first floated it on social media across the weekend, with established organisations like Rainbow Riverina curious about the possibilities.
“This would be a social youth group, not just for LGBT people but for everyone, no matter what they believe in,” Mr Thompson said.
“Every other youth group is church-related, a lot won’t go to them because of those beliefs. I wanted to create something that was supportive, to be there for them when there was nowhere else to go, where people can have fun and make friends without being judged.”
Kat van der Wijngaart, the mother of an openly gay teenaged daughter, said it was a fantastic idea that showed promise.
“I think it’s really positive to do something youth-based for the LGBT community,” Ms van der Wijngaart said. “But as the parent of an LGBT person I’m naturally wary… I’m glad he’s reached out and started talking to us about what he wants to do, his aims, the services that would be linked up, but I’d need to consider all of that before I’d allow my daughter to join.”
Wagga has long had a reputation for being a socially conservative city, a reputation borne out by data from the 2016 census, but the results of last year’s postal survey on marriage equality revealed the city was far more accepting of LGBT people than many expected.
Ms van der Wijngaart said it was proof that Wagga was open-minded, but there were still challenges for young people identifying as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transsexual.
“There are the normal pressures of being teenagers with their hormones and all of those fun things along the way, with that conflict and confusion or fear of ‘coming out’ with whatever they identify as,” she said. “Lots of kids want to remain anonymous and in theory this (youth group) is a great idea, teenagers do whatever they’re comfortable with so it will be interesting to see how this goes.”
Allan Briggs from Rainbow Riverina said Mr Thompson had identified a need for somewhere young people could go and meet other people going through similar experiences.
“I didn’t think anyone else in Wagga was gay when I was a kid, but I’ve since discovered four other people I went to school with are gay men as well,” Mr Briggs said. “I don’t want any kid in Wagga growing up to feel like I did. It’s so important for them to know there are other people out there, that make sure they’re OK and they’ve got their backs.”
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