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Spectrum: A safe space for youth dealing with sexual orientation, gender identity

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Tara Jeffrey

Introductions in the Spectrum room are three-fold.

“We start with our names, pronoun preference, and one positive thing,” said Crystal Fach, facilitator of the Spectrum drop-in program at Sarnia-Lambton Rebound.

“It’s all about taking the guessing away and making people feel included.”

The first program of its kind in Sarnia, Spectrum is geared to youth ages 14 to 24 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, and questioning (LGBT2SQ).

“Some of our youth are not out, so this is a total safe space for them,” said Fach. “And it’s been really good watching them come out of their shells.”

Youth like Kevin Soetemans, who struggled with depression after coming out to his friends and family two years ago. He was 16, and he was lost.

A counsellor handed him a flyer for Spectrum and suggested he check it out.

“I’m so glad I did,” said Soetemans, who began attending the bi-weekly sessions. “It’s like I’m a completely different person now.

“Coming here helped me become more accepting of myself, and really cemented it — that it’s OK to be who I am,” he added. “And it’s been really cool to learn more — stuff we wouldn’t really be taught in schools.”

Spectrum sessions cover topics like updated sexual health, queer history, gender orientation and pronouns, and how to tackle homophobia and transphobia in the community.

At North Lambton Secondary School, Soetemans is working to launch a student-led Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), part of a growing trend in area schools.

“Whether its a GSA or a Social Justice Group, a number of our schools have those underway, at different stages, depending on the interest of what specific needs have been expressed,” said Dave Doey, superintendent with the Lambton Kent District School Board.

“The more accepted they feel, the more supported they are, the better they are able to focus on learning.”

He pointed to recent initiatives like the Safer & Accepting Schools workshops for both elementary and high schools, exploring strategies for creating inclusive classrooms and understanding the impact of homophobia and transphobia.

At St. Patrick’s high school, principal Rob Cicchelli said the Respecting Differences group was launched two years ago to help foster a safe, inclusive space for students. The student-led initiative is supported by a child and youth worker on staff.

“I think we are on the right track here in Sarnia,” said Fach.

“I can’t change peoples’ thoughts. But I do know we just need to treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve.”





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