Many of us struggle with figuring out our identity and place in the world as young people. But for young people who identify as LGBTQIA or Two-Spirit (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, aromantic, agender, or another gender or sexuality minority), making sense of who we are and finding communities we belong to can be even more confusing. Exploring our identities as LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit people can feel lonely, overwhelming, or even dangerous. Having social support – and especially, having the support of other LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit people who we can relate to – is key. These supports can help us to realize that we are not alone. There’s a vibrant, flourishing community of people like us with its own rich culture and history out there to welcome us.
But what do you do when you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone in person about your identity? What if you live in a community where you don’t feel accepted for who you are? For many LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit young people, the internet may the first place we feel able to express ourselves openly. Online communities let us stay anonymous and involve connecting with people who might be very far from our “real life” communities, both geographically and in terms of experiences and beliefs. They are one of the most common ways that LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit young people first learn about people who are “like us.” They can be a sandbox for experimenting with different identities, ways of talking about ourselves, and ways of relating to others. For instance, many young people first try using a different name or pronoun, or first come across a term that describes their identity in an online setting. Many of us first realize that we aren’t “just weird” by coming across others who feel the same, and who are able to talk about it publicly and proudly, online.
It’s important to make safe decisions online. Just like in person, not everyone online has good intentions, and being anonymous can also be dangerous. But for many LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit young people, finding community online is a valuable way of building confidence, understanding ourselves better, and learning about LGBTQ2A+ culture. It can even be a lifeline for those living in an unsupportive environment. Meeting other LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit people reminds us that we have a community and a future. It also is a reminder that there are other people who share our struggles, but also our triumphs.
At Foundry, we recognize the importance of connecting with other young people who can relate to your experiences. Connecting virtually can be especially helpful for young people who are feeling isolated or unsure of how to meet others who share their identity. Queer Café, our weekly virtual drop-in for LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit young people across BC, is one way of making those connections in a casual, safe, and accepting setting. Queer Café is a peer support group, which means it’s run by and for LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit young people, not counsellors or social workers. The professionals who lead the group are called peer supporters, meaning we’re trained service providers who also have experience of some of the challenges you might have, like mental health or substance use concerns. In the case of the peer supporters who run Queer Café, that means we also identify as LGBTQIA and Two-Spirit!
Rory is a youth peer supporter at Foundry Virtual and one of the facilitators for Foundry’s Queer Café drop-in. They identify as gay, transgender, and non-binary, and working with others in the LGBTQ2A+ community is one of their passions.
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