Two new drop-in programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth in Kanata will have a great impact on those accessing the services by providing a safe haven populated by like-minded peers, says the mother of a transgender child living in the west-end suburb.
Amanda Jetté Knox says her 12-year-old daughter Alexis has had “very positive experiences” attending both nights of #OK2BEME at the Kanata Haven Youth Centre, which jointly organizes the program with Pink Triangle Services (PTS).
“It’s a place where she can feel like a typical kid — and there are very few places like that for her in the world right now,” Knox says, adding that she loves “that PTS is involved, as they provide some wonderful role models.”
Another drop-in program is slated to start at the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre in the next few months.
Since coming out last year, Alexis has faced such severe bullying that Knox decided to homeschool the Grade 7 student until she is ready for highschool.
Until then, these sorts of programs act as a lifeline for Alexis to meet other kids who “get her,” Knox says.
“Early experiences with the community are important in shaping how she feels as a person and a young woman, so I want those to be as positive as possible,” Knox says. “Having a safe haven where she can go and connect with other like-minded and open-minded youth is vital to her self-esteem.”
The close proximity of these drop-ins provide for easier access for suburban youth as opposed to more centrally located programs, she added.
Opened at the start of March, #OK2BME provides LGBT and allied youth who are 24 and under with what organizers tout as an “open and friendly place where they can hang out, get connected, ask questions and celebrate their diversity.”
The program, which runs on the first Thursday of each month from 6 pm to 9 pm, will provide a welcoming support network for increasingly stressed youth, says Diane McNulty, executive director of the Kanata Haven Youth Centre.
“Youth are under a lot more pressure these days, and that seems to be causing a lot more anxiety and depression,” she says. “Many youth are stretched to their physical and emotional max and it often doesn’t take much to see them snap. Staying healthy both physically and emotionally is a balancing act and . . . many youth are having difficulty finding that healthy balance.”
The reaction so far to #OK2BME has been very positive, McNulty says, with the young participants appearing to feel “right at home,” although still in the initial “getting to know you stage.”
“We’re having some great discussions,” she said.
Since opening its doors in 2010, the Haven Youth Centre has supported an estimated 300-plus youths and young adults, some of whom are regulars, while others come in only occasionally or exclusively for crisis assistance.
The #OK2BME program, McNulty says, was created in response to “a need in our community that was identified by some of our youths.”
It also offered an opportunity for PTS to expand its reach beyond Ottawa’s core, says Kayla Miller, executive director of the non-profit organization.
“As much as we love our physical space at the centre, downtown is not always the easiest or most convenient location for folks to get to,” she says. “Our services are open to people all over Ottawa and it is important for us to make a concerted effort to offer different programs in as many different parts of the city as possible.”
For Knox, the role these sorts of initiatives have in improving the lives of LGBT youth can’t be downplayed.
“I truly believe programs like these save lives,” she says.