My name is Maria; I have a cat called Basil; My background is in acting and performing arts and I am Portuguese. This is how I start my sign-ups with every young person at LGBT Youth Scotland. When we meet, we don’t know each other and that can be a daunting feeling. It was with that exact same feeling that I had my interview in August 2021.
Up until that day, I was not aware of the work of LGBT Youth Scotland. I had moved to Glasgow as a mature student and my sexuality had never taken a significant role in my life except for how it was handled by my family.
At the end of my interview with Ann Marriott, at the time my future youth work manager, I cried and thanked her for the opportunity regardless of being offered the job. It was emotional to realise that there was a place in Scotland that created LGBTQ+ spaces to empower and protect young people. I could not imagine what that could feel like. That never existed in my world, life, or country. I was overwhelmed to even consider that my life experience; my family interactions; my sexuality; my religion could be a vessel to spread compassion: a value that I hold on tight to in my personal life and, now I have the chance to give it back to young people.
On a professional reflection, my arts career was always driven towards social practice and community engagement, which can be a challenging field to be part of when freelancing. So, when I saw the opportunity, it felt like a relevant step on my creative career; I just did not expect it to become a matter so close to my heart.
The Imposter-Syndrome hit very quickly, and I felt scared of letting them down; so, I sat with that discomfort. I had long and honest conversations with my fellow youth workers. I was allowed to be honest about my insecurities and I was reassured and supported every step of the way. In hindsight, I had to feel empowered by the team I was in, to empower young people and that butterfly effect has shown its fruits. I took a leap of faith and quit my other part-time jobs and put my hope and efforts into my youth worker role. In September 2021 I was offered to cover Pillar for 3 months, one of the digital groups in Highlands. By the end of my time with Pillar, I was offered a permanent role on the West team to run both TYG (Trans Youth Glasgow) and StandOut, whilst still being with Vada in the east.
“I remember being really impressed with how quickly you slotted into the group dynamic, it throws most people off at first, especially if they’re new to youth work, but you just seemed like you felt right at home, and you started making everyone, I, the group feel welcome straight away.” – Young person, Vada youth group
Vada, an open LGBTQ+ youth group for 16 – 25 year old young people was still happening online due to Covid-19 restrictions and digital youth work was a new challenge for me. Nevertheless, that opportunity allowed me to later advocate for more focus on digital youth work and its impact. In reflection, this would be the best period to leave Vada. I had supported them moving from 2 years of online youth work to an in-person setting. We experienced together the anxieties of returning to an in-person community emerging from a pandemic. We developed a trusting connection and I left Vada confident that they will be heading towards positive outcomes. Being a youth worker gave me the space to draw learning from my personal experiences and facilitate spaces for learning and conversations that many young people would not otherwise have.
“You encouraging me about youth work has made a huge difference, it’s made me feel like I’m really moving towards a positive future for the first time in years.” – Young person, Vada youth group
After a year engaging with young people’s needs and developing my own style of youth work, the opportunity to apply to the Youth and Community Development Officer for the West team appeared. Without hesitation I applied and was delighted to know that I had been chosen for the role. The Imposter-Syndrome remains but so do the voices of the young people who have shared their stories and successes in the past year.
I look forward to what the future of this role holds, to develop my skills further and to be part of the LGBT Youth Scotland team in creating more LGBT+ inclusive spaces. It is tempting to forget its impact when we do it every day, but I keep coming back to the thought of these spaces not existing for me while growing up and that is why we cannot stop. We must keep improving and growing to keep these spaces alive and safe for every young person in the LGBTQ+ community.