Photo by John-Morgan.
Coming out of the closet is difficult at any age. The challenge becomes exponentially higher as a youth, when you’re unsure of your place in the world, still dependent financially and emotionally on adults, and fearful of the potentially fickle judgments of peers and friends.
Luckily, there’s Youth Line, a Toronto-based service that provides peer support for youth in Ontario. “We listen and provide referrals, such as a counselling service, or a crisis centre, or an all-ages [queer-positive] event,” says Brian De Matos, a former peer support volunteer. (He is careful to note that Youth Line isn’t a counselling service, but it provides an empathetic ear for youths.) In addition to acting as a sounding board for queer and transgendered youth, there are also “parents and friends of someone who just came out calling us,” says De Matos. “They want to know how they can support them.”
De Matos has been with Youth Line for five years and now acts as Outreach Coordinator for the service. One of his goals is to provide greater outreach to Northern Ontario, where support is less available. “A challenge is to get known and have services there refer us,” he says. “There are a lot of services in Toronto, but not as many outside of the city. We’re trying to build a sense of community.”
Youth Line has found innovative ways to reach out, most recently introducing support through instant messaging to provide greater access for the digital generation. “There can be a greater sense of security,” says De Matos, not only because youth seeking privacy don’t need to worry about being overheard, but also because it can be easier to type something than to say it aloud. In addition, instant messaging benefits the hard-of-hearing: “We are expanding the communities that we can reach.”
De Matos is also excited by Line Art, an upcoming art auction being held on December 11, 2008 to raise money for Youth Line. “It’s our only big fundraising event and it’s the first event to be held at the newly re-opened AGO.” Many artists have donated works for the cause, and they are already on preview at the gallery. De Matos says that while the event will be fun, he also points out that it plays a serious role for Youth Line: “We are dependent on it to cover our operating costs and to create new partnerships to grow.”
Civil rights equality may be better in Canada than in other countries, but there is still a great need for the work that Youth Line does. “The issues [that affected youth] from thirty years ago are still happening. There is still bullying, still homophobia,” notes De Matos. If you can’t make the event, then consider donating your money or time. This holiday season, help someone in need know that they’re not alone.
Photo courtesy of Brian De Matos.