Organizations finding online success with connecting to P.E.I.'s LGBTQ youth
Digital spaces allow more youth from rural areas to connect on P.E.I.
Madison Power-Lockman recalls hearing now-PEERS Alliance co-worker Rory Starkman give a presentation at their middle school called "Get Real."
"They had these brash pink hats and they were talking about like, gender identity and they were talking about sexuality and I'd never heard anyone talk about it before in that way," Power-Lockman said.
"It really changed my life a whole lot and I definitely don't think I would be as happy as I am now."
Power-Lockman took what they learned from that presentation and attended the PEERS Alliance youth drop-in groups in Charlottetown. They are working with Starkman this summer at PEERS Alliance as community co-ordinator. (Both use they/them pronouns.)
During COVID-19 restrictions, getting youth together online was an important way to keep connected across the province.
"When COVID hit, I reached out to our youth and I was like, 'What platforms do you use?' and a lot of them were like 'Discord,'" said Starkman, who is the youth services co-ordinator with PEERS Alliance.
Discord is an online group chat program that allows users to meet in online clubhouses, hang out and chat from their own safe space.
Starkman said adapting to the global pandemic this way has allowed them to reach more youth across the province.
"If they need each other, they can message each other and different folks are going to be there and they're meeting different queer youth around the Island," Starkman said.
"It's really empowering to see like how many of them thought they were alone before they were on this server."
PEERS Alliance is hosting a Pride Online Scavenger Hunt (POSH) during P.E.I.'s Pride week, between July 26 and Aug. 2.
Montague outreach goes online
The Pink Elephant Project, formerly known as the Kings Youth Project out of Montague, also adapted during the pandemic restrictions on social gatherings.
The group pivoted from meetings after school to creating a digital safe space on the social media platform Instagram.
"It actually was a really great opportunity to rethink how we can provide more accessible support to the people that we're wishing to connect with," said Mary Clements, an individual and family support worker for the Canadian Mental Health Association based out of Kings County, as well as the Pink Elephant Project lead.
"And so whenever we moved to an online space we certainly noticed a huge uptick in engagement."
Rural youth in the area are able to connect online without having to be physically present, allowing barriers to be broken down, said Starkman and Clements.
"It can be intimidating to walk into a physical space or a room that you might not have been [in] before, especially if you're already feeling vulnerable or belong to a community that might be experiencing oppression or marginalization," Clements said.
The Pink Elephant Project is a partnership with the Kings Youth Wellness Committee and Canadian Mental Health Association on P.E.I., with funding for the initiative from the Canadian Medical Association Foundation.
Their final push before the funding ends at the end of the month has been to offer a Pride gift pack including stickers and a handwritten note to provide that connection through traditional mail.
"It really has highlighted to me just how wonderful just even one connection is and how valuable that is," Clements said.
"So yeah, our focus definitely is on trying to create community "
Offering the 'aha' moment
For staff at PEERS Alliance, that human connection is the vital one.
"Honestly, if I can give one tiny, gangly, caterpillar-eyebrowed 13-year-old, like myself, that 'aha' moment then that's it," Power-Lockman said.
"I've done my job because I have done for other people's lives in terms of self-discovery and inclusion what they have done for me."