Walking down the 2200 block of Brunswick street, there is a two-storey house with a bright pink door. Every day, Sheena Jamieson walks through that door, and does everything she can to help everyone who walks through it behind her.
Jamieson works as support services coordinator at The Youth Project, a non-profit organization that works with people under the age of 25 around issues of gender and sexuality. She’s been walking through that door since 2003, when she was accessing those services herself while still in high school. She’s been a part of the YP team ever since. “I absolutely loved being involved with something like the YP,” she says. “It was the first time I’d gotten to see what real change looked like.”
There have been lots of changes at the YP, and that’s what they are celebrating this Friday. It’s YP’s 20th anniversary, and they’re having a big party at the Maritime Museum Of The Atlantic.
The Youth Project started out as the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth Project, created by Planned Parenthood, with two support groups---one for young gay and bisexual men, one for young lesbian and bisexual women. Over the years the Project began to find its financial footing which led to the Project being able to hire full time staff. It also went on to create workshops, and education programs aimed at schools, community groups and professionals. In 2008, the organization became known as the Youth Project, as the scope of youth that they were helping included transgender youth and those who lived outside of traditional gender roles and all forms of sexuality. And the people who accessed the YP soon became part of the governing board, with the creation of the Youth Board. “They are proof that LGBTQ youth don’t get enough leadership opportunities because of homophobia and transphobia, because once they’re in a safe space they care about they can completely transform it,” dames Jamieson.
It’s all about creating and fostering a space where young people feel safe and well represented. “It’s tough work,” says Jamieson, “It requires a lightness to it that makes it accessible and fun for youth”
But the work doesn’t go unnoticed. The Project has been the recipient of awards such as the United Way’s Community Spirit Award, the Human Rights Award from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and the Ken Belanger Award from the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers. But those aren’t the things that matter to people like Jamieson. It’s the stories that are told about the Youth Project and the people who have accessed their programs and events. One of those events is the annual Queer Prom for LGBTQ youth. Sheena remembers a very specific moment from one prom in particular. “One of my faves was seeing a really shy boy get asked by another boy to dance, and his face just lit up,” she recalls. “You could tell he’d been waiting for that moment for a really long time. Those are moments I think we take for granted that LGBTQ youth don’t get to experience a lot.”
Stephanie Young was one of those youth. At 15 she heard of the YP through an older friend, and remembers going to a screening of “Brokeback Mountain” with a group of people from YP. “I showed up alone, and Patrick Daigle, one of the staff at the time, recognized that I was by myself and totally awkward about it,” she says. “He invited me to sit with him and his partner. I'm not sure if he even realized how big of an impact that invitation had on me, but I felt totally accepted and it was a great feeling.” Young hopes that she herself is helping others experience that feeling, as the filmmaker and activist has gone on to volunteer with the YP by doing art and film workshops.
“We’ve seen a lot of positive changes lately, but we can’t get complacent,” says Jamieson. “Homophobia and transphobia are still major contributors to the lives of LGBTQ youth and adults, and still pose a threat to our mental, emotional and overall health and wellbeing.”