Inside Prism: Coventry’s Only LGBTQ Youth Group



 

For an LGBTQ person, accepting themselves and being accepted by family, friends and society, can be equally challenging. Many studies have found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have a higher rate of suicide attempts than heterosexual youth.

Often, these suicide attempts stem from bullying, harassment and shaming from both society and family/friends.

Enter Prism.

Prism is Coventry’s only LGBTQ youth group for ages 13 – 21. I spoke to Aimee Challenor – the organisation’s vice chair – about the importance of Prism and the difficulties she’s faced as a transgender woman.

“Prism exists to support young LGBT+ people across Coventry and Warwickshire. We were founded many years ago, and really came out as a necessity of there being no other groups to support young LGBT+ people in Coventry.

“Over the years we’ve seen our membership always stay at an even level so there is that continued need for us to exist. But over the past 2 and a half years or so, we’ve seen our membership grow week after week.”

This recent growth in membership is most likely down to more LGBT people being able to be who they are. However, it could also mean that there is an additional need for support due to a societal increase in homophobia, trans-phobia, bi-phobia etc.  This is why support groups like Prism are so important.

Prism’s main focus is young people (ages 13-21) who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. This includes people who may be questioning their identity.

“Because we’re dealing with young people who are already going through a vulnerable period of their lives, with puberty, exams, school, bullying, we want to sure make that this space is safe for them to be able to explore their identity and seek that support.

Meetings are really informal: “we start often at about 6 o’clock and people come in, we’ll stick the kettle on, have a cuppa, have a biscuit and we’ll just let the young people organize their own sessions. Be it a games night, if they wanna talk, there are always mentors at prism, so that should a young person come and want specific one to one support, that could be offered.”

Prisms also work with other organisations such as sexual health services, inviting guest speakers in to make sure that their young people are staying safe.

“But it’s really lead by the young people.”

Membership is completely free and the group is purely reliant on donations and volunteers to run it.

“Every single one of the adults volunteer and we rely on donations, be that of biscuits for the young people to eat, games for them to play or donations of funding for us to be able to take them places. Recently The Yard actually gave us about £500, which for many charities might not seem a lot, but for Prism, that goes a long way. That pays for about 6 months of venue hire for us.”

So, what should people do if they feel unsure about their identity?

“We would always say get in touch because we can offer that one to one mentoring service at Prism, or if you think that what we provide isn’t right for you, or if you’re outside of our age bracket, we can always signpost you to services that may be able to provide you with the support that you want.”

Opening up about her own story, Aimee tells me she wishes she could have ‘come out’ sooner.

“I came out nearly 4 years ago when I was leaving school age 16. I came out because I’d been questioning my gender since I was about 10. I was in year 6. But I didn’t know being trans was a thing. I spent years leaving it, hiding it and then I saw something on the Internet and it put a name to how I felt.

“Hang on. Maybe I’m trans. There’s an actual word for how I’m feeling.

“I was 16 when I came out but I’d been questioning it for 6 years. 6 years of questioning, knowing that something wasn’t right with my gender. I hid away. I became anxious, isolated, and really just shut away because something wasn’t right and the isolation led to depression, anxiety, which impacted on my school life and my education.”

“When I came out, I went to college nearby and I experienced horrific trans-phobia. I had the usual trans-phobic bullying – the slurs, the pushing about. I also had people telling me I was worthless. I had items thrown at me. I was shoved about.

“And it wasn’t being tackled by the teaching staff.

“So this led to difficulties in my head.

“If this is happening and it’s not being tackled by teaching staff, maybe it’s because they’re telling the truth. Maybe I am worthless.

“And it led to a really dark period in my life where I considered suicide.

I shut myself off completely. I didn’t leave my flat for about 3 months. I had some amazing friends who reached out and helped me and slowly I took control again of my life, my independence.

“It’s not just me. We see the statistics where 48% of trans youth attempt suicide each year. We know that many of us are facing extreme difficulties already in life before you bring gender identity or sexual orientation into it and that’s why Prism is so essential.

“It gives space for 2 hours a week for our young people to come and get away from it. Or to have that one to one session to seek additional support and it’s crucial.

Aimee still faces trans-phobia as an adult, a lot of which was linked to her parliamentary candidacy earlier this year. She’s faced these struggles firsthand and highlights the significance of organisations like Prism for people in similar situations.

“I had numerous comments telling me to kill myself. I had numerous amounts of trans-phobic slurs online. It’s a society wide problem and coming out for many of our young people is such a big step because for many they’re stepping into the unknown. They don’t know how their family is going to react – for all they know they could be end up on the streets after coming out.

“So we’re there to say we will support you and so we work with other organizations such as safeguarding and sexual health services to ensure we’re supporting our members in the best way we can.”

I also spoke to two Prism members to find out how the organisation has helped them personally.

They said it gave them confidence and the ability to help others. As well as support, friendship, and biscuits!

“It’s a safe space, even if I’ve had a negative week. Especially because it gives me the ability to talk confidently about touchy subjects.”

“It’s a nice for my parents to know I have somewhere safe to go socially outside of college.”

“Prism has kind of welcomed my parents and has accommodated me and how I work.”

These members have found comfort and security as part of the group and use it as a way to meet and talk to others like them, which they might otherwise find difficult in every day society.

Meeting venues are kept confidential in order to safeguard members.

For more details on times, dates, how to join and any other questions you may have, visit
http://www.prismlgbtq.org

Divya Soni

 

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