It’s time to come out with it. I’m turning 21 this year and have been in and out of care since I was a child. Being in the system as a child is a challenge all on it’s own, then add being queer¹ on top of that it’s an extra weight that no one would take seriously. My intentions of this article are not to spread hate or judge the system and the people working within it.
Queer is an umbrella term for people who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender. Originally meaning “strange” or “peculiar”, queer came to be used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires or relationships in the late 19th century. In the 21st century, it has been reclaimed by the LGBT community during the rise of PRIDE activist movements.
For a long time I have been reflecting on being a youth in care, and when being asked to write a short reflective piece on my experience being queer in care, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to fit everything I want to say in under 900 words… regardless, someone needs to tell it how it is and I am definitely going over 900 words because this is important to me.
Being a part of the LGBT+ community and in “the system” takes a toll mentally and physically especially at such a young age for most of us out there. When offered the opportunity to write this piece I was asked three questions that I’m going to answer below.
For the first one I felt it was only fair that other LGBT youth in care (and former youth) have a say in this as well. I know my white privilege and personal situations have an affect on how I am treated within ‘the system’ and that other LGBT youth do not have the advantages I have being white. Below are me and two other LGBT youth answering:
What it is like to be queer and in our system?
“Agonizing… I don’t even know how to explain that. ”– POC queer former youth in care
“After coming out in care I felt pressure from the system to advocate for the other queer youth in care when I’m still on my own self discovery path and it shouldn’t be my responsibility.”– POC queer former youth in care
“I honestly believe the system is uneducated on lgbt and queer life and this severely impacts how youth engage with the system, including the programs offered.”– trans youth in care
What has helped?
The mainstream support offered by the system does help to a degree.
When I was under 16 years old (pre-covid) I was told about the Positive Space Network (PSN) groups and weekly LGBT drop ins they had in almost every city. For someone that was social back then, it was a way for me to make new friends and get away from home.
I really want to acknowledge that the volunteer drivers and mentors provided make a huge difference between life and death for LGBT youth that are in the system. I don’t want to discredit all the work that has been put in to change the system but it really is ‘pick and choose’ on who this helps.
This next point is between help/not helped because for some youth they can connect with people of all ages where as others are uncomfortable with that.
The LGBT groups that do happen are usually all ages 14-21. The benefit in this is that all ages can learn from each other and in the best case scenario support each other, creating a friend for life.
In my own experience at these drop ins, ages 17+ are going through a lot of changes that the younger youth wouldn’t understand and it causes problems. If there were more LGBT programs that targeted certain ages and “stages” of (what I prefer to call) self-discovery there would be a lot more room for these kids to grow and understand from peers their age and not risk being exposed to problems older youth face.
That said, the groups that are in place now are doing what they can to bring LGBT youth together in a time when we need it the most.
What has not?
The programs and services I mentioned are not individualized for each youth, rather every LGBT youth in care is treated more or less the same. We are all given the same LGBT groups to go to because there aren’t that many in certain towns like Milton and Georgetown.
There are not many group homes, or host home type programs either and if more were added it can benefit the youth in care right now. (possibly creating jobs and co-ops for older youth 14+)
The PSN programs and drop ins for us to go to are great and help for some youth, but that’s not what we need all the time.
Of course, every child deserves a friend and a loving support group because that’s ultimately what helps us grow into adults and learn as people. Unlike straight youth in care we are glamorized for being queer in a way that is almost unsettling if you step back and look at the big picture.
That becomes the main focus when it shouldn’t be all the time. We are still kids, with feelings and other life problems just like any other kid would have. We change and grow everyday, and most of the time there’s more than one “coming out.”
When I entered care I was not out as non-binary, but rather a “trans guy” or “ftm” which I notice now caused a lot of issues and confusion for the people trying to help. Only once I was out as trans was PSN brought up to me.
When I was out as queer they understood that to the basic level, but I had to explain everything over and over to each worker I met. That didn’t help; being asked about what all these terms meant was mentally exhausting because I am just like every other kid, I’m still learning about myself everyday.
I’m also going to bring up the caseload of each individual worker, whether it’s BTG, VYSA or CCSY. As youth in care, we are aware we are not alone in the system. The problem we worry about is how many youth do workers actually care for?
In my earlier years in care (and sometimes now) I was often told by my workers that they were too busy, they had too many kids to see/talk to that day and that if it wasn’t an urgent problem it could wait. This in itself has not helped youth in care feel like they can be open to every worker about what’s going on in our lives.
This needs to be addressed, and when it is more supports can be given to the workers that our helping us, so they can do their job to the very best; without worrying if they are doing enough to help every youth, queer or not.
As a white person I’ve had some workers mention the LGBT groups to me, but when I talk about these groups with other youth in care that are people of color they aren’t aware of them. It seems like the system doesn’t appear to mention these supports to queer youth that are also people of color. This makes it harder for POC queer youth in general to embrace their identity while facing systemic racism.
I highly recommend watching these short youtube videos to learn more about systemic racism in Canada, and how it can affect the youth in care.
As well as this video about the first LGBT group home in Canada, highlighting how it’s helped queer youth. Also how important it is to invest in more of these so LGBT youth can finally have a place to call home.
This post was written by Kyel Black, a trans non-binary youth in care, who is also known as Emriyus on their blog, THE EXISTENTIALIST
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