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New support program for LGBTQ youth opens up in Shelburne

January 23, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Written By MARNI WALSH

In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth 10 to 19 years of age. 

“LGBTQ youth have one of the highest rates of suicide,” says Shelburne Support Counsellor Melissa Galbraith. But, she says, “One supportive adult can reduce that risk of suicide by 40%.” Ms. Galbraith will open a free support program for LGBTQ youth in Shelburne this month.

Starting Jan. 31, every other Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Trinity United Church, located at 200 Owen Sound Street, Melissa Galbraith will “create a space where youth can come and talk about issues they may not be able to talk about with other folks in their life.” 

Reverend Candice Bist from Trinity Church, told the Free Press, one of the things she likes about the current theology in the United Church of Canada is that “it celebrates all religious expressions, it celebrates all gender identities, and it celebrates all the different ways that we may find God.”

“I think this reflects a true understanding of what faith is,” says Reverend Bist. “In the scriptures it says that ‘faith is hope in things unseen.’ To have faith in the essential goodness of people and the world, to hold hope that even in the most unexpected people and situations there is undiscovered treasure, that in all people, in all situations there is the divine spark flickering, waiting to be fanned into a full, richness of possibilities, this is real hope to me.”

She added, “And we want to offer that in as many ways as we possibly can. We look for people in the community who have something to offer, something they are passionate about, and we try to support their effort here and now, on their home ground, to make the world a better place.” 

She says, “Melissa has a passion to allow people with varying gender identities to explore their inner world, and we want to support that.”

As someone who identifies as LGBTQ, Melissa Galbraith knows first hand “how hard it can be – and how unaccepting many folks can be around this issue.” She says, “The goal for this group is to help build support for LGBTQ youth (ages 13-23), and to decrease the isolation that some youth may face.”

In 2018, the Provincial Conservatives repealed the updated 2015 Ontario sex-ed curriculum that had been put in place by the previous Liberal government. The 2015 curriculum included, among other topics, lessons on same-sex relationships and gender identity. Mr. Ford’s government called it “ideological,” and Ontario teachers were instructed to teach from the 1998 sex-ed curriculum until further consultations, beyond those which were already conducted by the Wynne government, were completed. 

In April 2019, the Ford government released a “new” sex-ed curriculum that was pretty much the same as the Liberals’ 2015 curriculum. Concepts of gender identity, for example, were to be taught in grade 8 instead of grade 6, but sexual orientation would actually be taught a year earlier. 

Essentially, Ontario students lost months of important and relevant sex education, at a hefty price tag to tax payers and unknown costs to the health and safety of indiviudal kids. Additionally, the controversy increased fears that LGBTQ students would be further marginalized and bullied in an atmosphere of growing populism. That fear lingers.

“It can be scary for a youth to realize that they are gay/queer and feel that they do not have the support of their family and/or close friends,” says Melissa Galbraith. “This can make people feel very alone and can be very isolating for folks. I want to create a space where youth can feel safe and supported.” 

“I believe that everyone has the right to feel good about who they are,” says Melissa Galbraith, “and I would love to help create this feeling for others in the community.” She hopes that as youth come out to this group, they will meet other LGBTQ youth in the area, who they can also feel supported by and can create a network of friends and supportive people with whom they can feel safe. She says, “This can drastically improve the mental health, self esteem, and self image of folks who identify under the LGBTQ spectrum, or folks that are questioning their sexual orientation.”

“We are hopeful that Melissa and all those whom she cares about will find they have a welcoming space at Trinity United Church,” says Reverend Bist, “to explore who they are and how they may make their contribution to this world. We offer her every blessing on her work.”

“This is meaningful work, and it feels great knowing that others in the community feel the same way,” says Melissa Galbraith. “If I can help one youth feel accepted and comfortable with their identity, that would make this group entirely worthwhile to me.”



         

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