2 min

Taking care of our youth

International Youth Day

The importance of opening and maintaining clear lines of communication between young people and adults has long been recognized by those involved with at-risk youth.

Since 1999, the United Nation’s International Day of Youth has been an opportunity to draw attention to the needs of young people world-wide.

This year’s celebration, held Thu, Aug 12, was themed Youth in an Intergenerational Society, and sought to promote solidarity between different generations.

Last month, both the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) and Egale Canada used the occasion to remind members of Ottawa’s queer community of the importance of reaching out to its own youth population.

According to the CAS’ Kim Thomas, communication is key in reducing HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates among queer youth.

“Healthy sexuality doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” says Thomas. “There’s a lot of other things that influence the different behaviours of kids.”

In response to recent studies that indicated Canadian youth are often misinformed and apathetic about HIV/AIDS infection, Thomas says the CAS has called upon the federal government to develop and implement a national Youth Action Plan.

The action plan would not only address the “standardization” of prevention education, she says, but also the broader issues that make youth at risk for substance use, poverty, healthy sexuality and body image.

“There is a need for prevention campaigns that are inclusive of youth – not just targetted at youth – but that also have a genuine youth voice, so that they actually are something that would appeal to [them],” Thomas says.

In addition to being at risk for HIV/AIDS infection, Egale Canada’s executive director Gilles Marchildon says queer youth tend to suffer more than most Canadians from the effects of homophobia, transphobia, racism and economic barriers.

In fact, according to Marchildon, a recent study by the University of Calgary demonstrated that gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to have made a serious attempt at suicide sometime in their lives.

“Depending on the studies you look at, anywhere between a third and a quarter of youth who take their lives – or try to take their lives – do so because they’re pushed, because of societal stigma against homosexuality, bisexuality and trans-genderism,” he says.

Marchildon adds that since the schools represent one of the best ways to reach out to youth, earlier this year Egale established an Education Committee to inform and empower teachers on “how to fit anti-homophobia teaching within their curriculum.”

But while there are encouraging steps being taken by some school boards, he says much more needs to be done.

“Increased visibility in pop culture has not eliminated homophobia and transphobia,” Marchildon says. “There remains a huge social stigma on issues related to sex and gender… this has got to change.”