The ‘safe schools’ debate has raged through the media in the last few weeks.
At times like these, it’s easy to be blind sided by political op ed’s and vocal public figures. We tend to forget to listen to the voices of those affected by the very thing we are debating.
Last week, popular LGBTIAQ+ book store, Hares and Hyennas, held a reading for The Telling Tree, a storybook project created by members of the LGBTIAQ+ youth community. The Telling Tree, a collaboration between Yarra Youth Services, Drummond Street Relationship Services, Minus18 and The Ownership Project, features Kai Hart, a teen who identifies as agender, aromantic and asexual.
[The Telling Tree] is about getting out what we wanted to say and having an opportunity to make sure we are acknowledged,” Says Kai.
“We participated in workshops where we discussed things like, how did you discover your identity, what sort of explorations did you do, what sort of reactions have you experienced. It’s about Drawing from our own experience from growing up queer.”
Exposing cisgender and heterosexual teenagers to the LGBTIAQ+ community is simply a way to promote inclusion, shatter stereo types and open dialogues in the community.
“When people know who we are… it means [a person] can say ‘look these are real people in my community who are dealing with these real things, I should probably respect them more.'”
The Telling Tree is a compilation of 10 short pieces by various LGBTIAQ+ youth. From descriptions of terminolgy to recounts of real events, every word is written with knowledge beyond its years.
Living in an environment that challenges your right to existence is both physically and mentally challenging. It affects the individuals, families and friends, and can often cause conflict in relationship dynamics.
“My parents are super supportive, but they have trouble with [aspects of] it. They do have a little bit more trouble with my gender identity… I think it’s a thing that a lot of parents do, which is ‘Oh you’re my baby girl’, and ‘I want to call you your [real] name’ and ‘it’s so hard for me to remember.’ I’m still your child, i’m just not your daughter.” they say.
Acknowledgement ignites the process of acceptance. For Kai, changing her name was a step toward feeling more at ease in their body.
“At one point, my mum was like, ‘I named you, you’re under my roof.’ But as recently as last week, she said, ‘you know its your name and I acknowledge that that is you, but I do so much and i’m so busy and it’s hard for me to remember a whole new name to call you’, so she is softening.”
“I do struggle with it. A few days ago i sent off my official name change form, so i had to subtly ask my parents where [my birth certificate] was. I have this fear of what they will do, when they see my new birth certificate with my [new] name on it. It’s something that can make me really anxious and contributes to these feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness that I feel.”
By accepting one’s right to choose their name, pronouns, gender identity and sexual preference you’re leading by example. It’s the small changes that make a big collective difference to kids growing up Queer.
I am aromantic, asexual and agender. This means i am affectionately called ‘triple A’. It’s common in the depths of Tumblr. ‘A’ is one of the few prefixes that is used for orientation (which include romantic, sexual, platonic, sensual, alterous and aesthetic) <em>and</em> gender identities, and ‘triple pan’ and ‘triple bi’ aren’t puns (unless you make them so, send m an ask on Tumblr with your punz pls).
Considering how flighty and artist-y I am, it might be weird to also find out I am obsessed with the technical, which is why I will expand on my identity for you. Saying I’m aro’, ace and agender is not enough to capture all that I am and that is obvious, of course. You could know that i’m also a singer, a writer and a waitrex, but what I mean is I collect as many words that describe disparate parts of who I am and to be honest this sometimes makes it burdensome to be so queer.
I am also quoiromantic, and lithromantic, and alloplatonic, allosensual, bialterous, trans and nonbinary, and use they pronouns.
The thing about these words is that they mean different things to different people. What a community does is roughly homogenise these meanings and eventually spawn new words and new groups because people find other people in much more meaningful ways.
Take for example bisexualtity. Within the queer (LGBTIAQ+) community, there are lots of meanings people have for bisexuality. Some people have stopped using it altogether in favour if terms like pansexuality, polysexuality and plain old queer. Multiple gender attracted (MGA) is also used as an umbrella term.
However! here are also words that people have created that can be super contentious. I am personally against using words like sapiosexual because it can mask or outright expose an ableist attitude and can group together a lot of experiences that can resemble bisexuality, pansexuality and asexual spectrum identities, which have many sub-identities or related identities that are just as useful and a lot less problematic.
This does not mean that I want to infringe on the rights of people to self-identify. In fact, as someone who is as far outside any binary as I am, I know how liberating it can feel to find that there are still words and meanings and community out in this lovely void.
The gentrification of Melbourne’s inner north has been a reality since the 1970’s when industry moved further out and housing affordability decreased rapidly.
Yet, the City of Yarra is host to some of Melbourne’s largest and oldest public housing settlements, which are a core feature in the municipalities profile.
Eighteen year old Yarra Resident, Wilson Poni, has lived in Richmond in a community housing residence for over a decade and can’t imagine a better place to have grown up.
“It’s a good area, it’s safe as well.”
Part of Wilson’s love for his community stems from his participation in the council run Yarra Youth Services (YYS), located on Napier Street in Fitzroy. YYS aim to cater, not only to the 15,000 youth living in the area, but also to those who frequent it through school, work or play.
“Yarra Youth helps a lot of kids. They provide support and they give opportunities to kids to actually engage.”
YYS run programs such as fashion and textile design, artist in residence workshops, event management projects and leadership programs among many others.
“I’ve actually been through most of the programs here,” says Wilson. “When I was a kid I tried everything…The Livng It Up program is really good, it provides what we want to learn, the life skills, [which] I think are very important. Its like a short taste of what’s out there, you know.”
Although anyone under the age of 25 can participate, a large number of those involved in YYS are residents of the public housing dwellings.
Wilson is just one of many kids involved with YYS, yet his story is one with a precarious beginning, a commonality among the youth.
“My family moved from Sudan to Uganda. We were refugees from Sudan to Uganda, [now] half my family is in Sudan [and] half is in Uganda.”
Wilson spent several years with his mother and siblings in a Ugandan Refugee camp before being granted asylum in Australia.
“I remember Uganda not Sudan, I was just a baby, two or three… I haven’t been back there, but I was planning to go this year with my mum.”
In a country as multicultural as Australia, it’s no surprise that one in four Australians are born overseas. In the City of Yarra municipality, that increases to one in three.
What it is to be a youth in Australia can be an entirely different experience to that of a youth in other countries. Children from migrant families often have more responsibilities and personal freedoms can be restricted as a consequence.
“My mum is finishing study for her childcare course [and] I help look after [the kids she cares for] when she isn’t feeling well… I have to take kids to training when they play basket ball… I feel like I have to help, anyways I like doing it, it’s alright. The kids are nice as well.”
Earlier this year, Wilson was one of six selected individuals flown to the Manchester City Football Academy’s Global Young Leaders Summit. The opportunity came through the YYS Soccer Pathways program, and is sponsored by Melbourne City FC.
“Im a sports person, everything I want to do has to do with sports,” he boasts.
Wilson is studying sports development at Victoria University and hopes to become a manager of a soccer team. His recent trip to Manchester inspiring a love of travel and the idea of living abroad.
“I see myself in England managing a team in 10 years. I was there for a week, it was beautiful, [it was] the best week.”
Shaping young minds and ensuring their best possible outcome is fundamental to community development and Wilson believes YYS provides the necessary support systems.
“Yarra Youth has helped me to form what I am now, [without it] i’d be a different person.”
However, ensuring that the services offered cater to a vast array of individuals, including youth, parents and carers, is essential to the functionality of the organisation.
Cherry Grimwade, is the Youth and Middle Years Coordinator at YYS. She has been involved in the youth services sector for over 10 years and highlights their varied role within the community.
“You’ve got real pockets in Yarra of affluence, and real pockets in Yarra of disadvantage. How do you make sure a program and services you run are engaging and successful for all youth?” she asks.
From the ‘Living It Up’ life skills workshops, which teach mechanical work, cooking and boxing, to the music recording studio, which gives youth a safe place for expression, Grimwade believes it takes a variety of activities to nurture a variety of people.
“We have lots of different young people at the centre… Lots of different cultural backgrounds, [they’re] from various different sexual orientations, different age groups, different interests, involved in different sub cultures… Ultimately they are coming to those programs because they have an interest in that area, and part of youth services is to make everyone feel like they are connected and integrated in the program.”
Through free programs and transport to and from workshops, YYS aims to overcome accessibility issues, which often stem from economic hardship.
Unemployment, however, is a very real concern among Australian youth, who make up 40% of the entire unemployed work force.
According to a 2014 research report conducted by the Inner Northern Youth Employment Taskforce, a sharp decrease of entry level jobs since 2008 has further skewed opportunity vs participation of youth employment.
In the city of Yarra 26.7% of youth were unemployed in 2014, further perpetuating social and economic differences among youth.
“All young people have barriers to employment at the moment. If you’re a young person that has been born in Australia and have good family networks often your first casual job, or your job, comes from someone your family knows. For young people that live in the housing estates that’s where it differs. They don’t have those connections. [The point of] youth services is actually to build those connection points for them.”
However, the disconnect among young people can not always be measured in numbers. For some, their past experiences are harder to manage than others, and social cohesion relies on providing a safe environment for expression.
“A lot of these kids come from really traumatic backgrounds, from war torn countries , there are issues around big families living in small units, [or] not having a back garden. There are often barriers to schooling… Some of these young people have come from refugee camps, so if you’ve been in a refugee camp for 6 years your education won’t reflect your age level.” Says Grimwade
Knowing how to address these traumas and life experiences is key to the services proved by Yarra Youth.
“A number of young people are involved with the Hip-Hop program at the music studio. Through Hip-Hop and writing songs they often will write about their experiences and their histories… it means that they can start and unpack and deal with those issues.”
Wilson just finished his first demo track at the music studio, for him and hundreds of other kids who have stepped through the Napier Street doors, YYS is central to bridging the gaps that naturally occur within diverse communities.