Our Borders youth worker Keith Farnish shares his LGBT Youth Scotland story.
I first encountered LGBT Youth Scotland when my youngest child began attending the Involved youth group in Selkirk back in 2014. Throughout the time that Kaelin attended the group, my only contact with others would be when waiting at the bus stop on a Wednesday night. I’d see a few other people, usually with interesting coloured hair, chatting about what happened at group. It was clear to me that “what went on in group, stayed in group”, but it was obvious that Involved was a hugely important part of life for some young LGBT+ people in the Borders; in a few cases, a genuine lifeline. Kaelin went on to become a member of the LGBT Youth Scotland Youth Commissions, as an advocate for LGBTI people who have experienced homelessness, and then later as a member of the non-binary community in Edinburgh.
I got to know some other LGBTI young people in the Borders through my work at local schools and my wife’s support for trans and non-binary young people, and I became a bit of a local celebrity(!) for my non-binary activism alongside Kaelin, which led to my interest in more directly supporting for LGBTI young people.
An opportunity arose in early 2018 to become a volunteer at LGBT Youth Scotland and, in September, I began to help out at the very same Involved group Kaelin had gone to. There were one or two familiar faces, but it took a while to be accepted by a few of the young people. An “immersive” approach to breaking down those barriers included getting to like the band Twenty One Pilots and lots of other things the young people were interested in, as did the support of other volunteers and staff who were always there to talk to and fall back on if things got a bit too intense.
In November, there was an opening to join the staff team as a Sessional Youth Worker, as well as to be involved in Youth Commissions, and I jumped at the chance. Already, Involved and LGBT Youth Scotland had become a very important part of my life, and I was keen to take more responsibility for the young people and the group in a wider sense. I became part of the staff team in January 2019, and ran the group for the first time the very next week.
My first trip was in February, taking seven young people to the LEAP Sports bowling tournament in Falkirk, which was at times hilarious and very entertaining, but also a huge responsibility – having a group of young people put their trust in you is a very intense experience. The #BeLGBTInvolved mini-youth summit, held in St Boswells Village Hall on Purple Friday (20th February) was an even greater responsibility, but in this case the young people themselves were instrumental in running a great deal of it for the benefit of over 70 LGBTI under-25s from all over the Borders. It is a source of great pride that our small group was able to pull off such a successful day.
As well as being a way of giving young people a host of new experiences in a safe environment, especially given the still-common presence of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the Borders, being part of LGBT Youth Scotland has also allowed me to understand myself a bit more. I recently came out as pansexual having always convinced myself I was straight, despite having a close affinity with the LGBTI community. I also took four young people to Trans Pride Scotland at the end of March, which was my first Pride event, so by supporting a large group of young people from the Borders and Edinburgh I was also giving myself the chance to experience something new. None of this would have been possible had I not volunteered with and then worked for LGBT Youth Scotland.
It is often difficult to know exactly what kind of an impact Involved has on the young people given the short time they have available for contact during the week (three hours on a Wednesday, along with trips and events). The fact is, they keep coming back. In many cases they increasingly show confidence and a willingness to take the lead in projects, as they entrust the staff and volunteers with their true identities and deepest feelings. Youth groups like these are essential in the Borders, and I am proud to play a small part in this.
To support our fundraising campaign to keep our youth work services running and learn more about how you can make a difference to the lives of LGBTI young people, head to our Youth Work Changes Lives page.