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Pride Online: Innovating in youth work

Our Edinburgh Youth Worker, Socks, reflects on her experience of developing our first online event for young people on our Discord community server.

There I was, belting out The Backstreet Boys; surrounded by balloons, streamers, colourful fashion with glitter stuck to pretty much everything. Back then, during Pride 2019, I couldn’t have known we would be living in a totally different world the following summer.

Fast forward a year: working from home, uncertainty in the air, hand sanitiser everywhere. How would we celebrate pride this year if we couldn’t be together? Pride season is usually a time to connect with others, share our experiences and journeys together in a very public way, while advocating for change and embracing our true authentic selves.

LGBT Youth Scotland normally run wonderful ‘youth spaces’ at pride events across Scotland, with fun activities, information, and a huge intake of sign-ups for our youth groups. Most importantly: we provide visible support and advocacy for any young person who needs it. Sadly, summer 2020 was somewhat eclipsed by… let’s call her Miss ‘Rona (thanks to Lady Leshurr for that one!). Well, Miss Rona wasn’t letting us have ANY of our usual fun and frolics.

How could we celebrate pride 2020 in these unusual circumstances? 

The answer was: to build a safe, secure, and inclusive Discord server to run youth groups and deliver support online. The first of its kind, and genuinely trailblazing in the youth work sector. The young people appropriately named it Pride & Pixels.

Pride & Pixels has almost 300 users, with numbers growing all the time. Our aim was to ensure that young people felt safe and secure, with dedicated ‘channels’ for each youth group. The groups ‘meet’ at the same time as they would have face-to-face, with the same youth workers and the same volunteers.

Since launch, we’ve seen some incredible creative work from our youth work team. Each week they deliver a wide range of workshops via voice chat, screensharing, online activities and video calling. We knew the platform had a lot of potential for events like Pride, so we started researching our options. When the opportunity came up to be part of the planning group, I (enthusiastically but naïvely) shot my hand up to volunteer!

With a representative from each area across Scotland, our Pride event planning team set to work, asking questions we didn’t know the answer to (yet) and dreaming up ideas big and small for our event. As ever, it would be youth-led, so we sought their views on the server itself and a small group of youth volunteers joined the planning team. Together, we designed a schedule for the afternoon: a mix of workshops, resource channels, breakout areas and an open mic ‘main stage’ finale, with some special invited guests!

Before I knew it, Saturday 5th September rolled round. And there I was, sat at my desk, with LGBT flags all over the place; our complicated, colour coded schedule pinned to the wall, rainbows on my cheeks, feeling a queasy sense of nervous energy. Would anyone turn up? As we logged onto Pride & Pixels that afternoon, no one really knew what to expect. Almost instantly the numbers started racking up. First 20 young people online, then 30, then 40, then well over 50! I was elated!

There was something for everyone: Queer Beauty, Polari Language, an Escape Room Game, Collaborative Art, and a spotlight on Black Lives Matter and activism. 10 workshops ran back-to-back, some of which were delivered by young people! There were additional dedicated channels for queer TV and film resources and discussions on queer fashion (and a best dressed competition).

The open mic segment was a wonderful end to a fabulous afternoon. We had pre-recorded a video line-up packed full of talented, amazing, vibrant queerness! This included drag queens, drag kings, a comic book art time-lapse, a drag makeup tutorial, live singing, lip syncing, visual artists, special shout-outs, and… an appearance from our very own MSYP! 

Then, suddenly, it was all over! Phew. Everyone had an amazing time, with the young people chatting away all afternoon, engaging in multiple workshops and connecting with each other across Scotland. For some, it was a continuation of their own personal Pride journey. For others, it was their first ever Pride, and a brand-new experience:

“Super fun!!”

“This was really good and I'm glad that this was the experience I had for my first Pride!! :)”

“It was fantastic to have a place to chat about my passions and meet people I hadn’t met before. An awesome opportunity, especially through this lockdown.”

Okay. I’m never going to say it was an exact replacement for the cheesy, heart-warming fuzzy feels we might get at Pride in person, but it was something new and something very special. It came with its own sort of ‘online’ fuzzy feels. I feel proud to have been involved in the planning and delivery of a new way of working. I guess without Miss ‘Rona, we would never have been pushed beyond our comfort zones to create something so unique, for our very own unique community.

Who knows what the future holds for us in 2021. Same time next year?

 

- by Socks Rolland, Youth Worker


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