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LGBTQ youth offered new program in Amherstburg

Windsor-Essex Pride Fest and The House Youth Centre have joined forces to launch the first QConnect initiative in Essex County, offering programming and activities for young people who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

Windsor Star

Windsor-Essex Pride Fest and The House Youth Centre have joined forces to launch the first QConnect initiative in Essex County, offering programming and activities for young members of the LGBTQ community.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of youth coming to our organization who identify as being a part of the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community,” said Ashley Marchand, the Amherstburg centre’s activities co-ordinator.

“So we wanted to create a positive, inclusive space for (them) and their allies to come build self-esteem, build self-worth and feel included in their community.”

The new bi-weekly program is open to youth 13 to 20 years of age. Peer facilitators will ensure a safe space for participants to connect through a variety of activities based on a general theme each week.

Marchand said trips to events such as Pride Fest and other activities will be offered because many times county youth are unable to attend due to transportation or cost or because they haven’t come out to their families yet.

“We want to give them that opportunity to do those activities as well,” she said.

David Lenz, president of Windsor-Essex Pride Fest, said a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation will provide programming in Windsor and Essex County.

Lenz said Amherstburg was chosen to launch the program because it has a well-established youth centre but work is underway to establish similar programs in Kingsville, Essex and other county communities.

“It was important to us to get to the youth, only because they’re the ones who are most vulnerable,” he said.

“For an LGBT youth that isn’t connected to anyone, it makes them feel comfortable that there’s someone else there that’s caring for them.”

The House is a non-denominational youth centre founded in 1971 by Father John Ware, who was a Catholic priest and clinical psychologist. It was known as the House of Shalom until about five years.

For more than 40 years, kids in Grades 9 through 12 have attended weekly peer-mentoring programs where they talk about self-esteem, health relationships, positive supports in the community and their lives, friendship, bullying — issues that teens face. They also volunteer in the community and attend annual retreats.

Marchand said about 50 youth are currently registered and that about 10 of those are members of the LGBTQ community.

They may be living openly or have privately come out to one of the staff at the centre.

“We want to make sure that we’re meeting their needs as well,” Marchand said. “As an organization that serves 50 kids already and 10 of which are identifying in the community, we can only imagine how big the need is in the community for the other youth who don’t attend our organization currently.”

LGBTQ Connect

A free, drop-in program held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at The House Youth Centre, 247 Brock St., Amherstburg.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, questioning, two spirit and marginalized youth and their friends and allies, between the ages of 13 and 20, are welcome to attend.

Further information can be found at LGBTQ Connect – Amherstburg on Facebook, at pride.christopherpressey.com or by calling 519-736-6811.