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Why digital youth work is empowering

Leo is a youth worker for LGBT Youth Scotland and based in Dumfries & Galloway. In this blog, Leo talks about their approach to digital youth work and how they empower young people to take the lead.

It’s such a joy to work with young people and to be inspired by their creativity and resilience on a daily basis. Recently one of our young people made some excellent suggestions which have changed my approach to digital youth work, and which has led to young people being more involved in the delivery of our groups.

Christian came forward with an array of ideas for sessions he would like us to run, and when I asked if he would like to deliver some of them himself, he jumped at the chance. He did loads of research and came back with a fully formed session plan which was almost ready to go. We discussed the best way to deliver it online, using a combination of video and typed chat, asking questions, posing discussion points, and encouraging participants to do their own research during the session. The topic was the legacy of the AIDS crisis with a focus on the blood donation restrictions on men who have sex with men.

Christian explained that he felt that “it was an important topic to continue discussion about as the ban reflects the institutionalised homophobia that exists within our social policy and politics all the way since before the HIV/AIDS epidemic”.

Christian delivered the session at one of our joint groups which is attended by young people from Dumfries and Galloway and South Ayrshire – the Covid equivalent of going on a trip and meeting other young people from adjacent areas. The group was a great success, with Christian holding space for sensitive and nuanced discussion. The young people contributed valuable points such as linking it to the Section 28 and its associated propaganda. The group also looked at some memorial images for those who were lost to AIDS. Christian introduced a discussion about activism towards the end and together they brainstormed ways to take action and to affirm those who are campaigning for change.

I am always eager when asked to lead workshops and this time was no different, and the planning process went very smoothly thanks to your help… this was another enjoyable experience with the charity,” he told me afterwards.

In my role as a youth worker, and formerly as a volunteer for several years, I feel so lucky to be supporting young people at our youth groups. Even though currently on pause during Covid, I also enjoy going into schools to deliver LGBT awareness training and to support young people one-to-one. Delivering training to the school I used to go to was particularly poignant for me. Though Section 28 was no longer in force when I was at secondary school, teachers did not have the training, resources or support themselves to provide an inclusive environment.

When I was at school we were not taught anything about LGBT history and culture, and it has taken me years of research as an adult to come into my identities, and to learn about the history of my community. Supporting our young people to talk about these things, to see their levels of knowledge and engagement with vital parts of our history, is one of my favourite parts of this work.

Since delivering the session to his own group, Christian has now been invited by other youth workers to run the session at different groups all across the country – something which can now be easily done via Pride & Pixels, LGBT Youth Scotland’s online community on Discord.  

As I continue to foster this youth-led approach in Dumfries and Galloway, we have already had another young person come forward and lead several games nights: “I think everyone at the session had fun which was good to hear, I was glad to lead the session and I'd be happy to do so again.” Other young people are due to lead collaborative fiction workshops and a session on LGBT people in the Victorian era in the upcoming weeks. One young person said, “I love talking about the Victorians and it’s a little scary to think of running my own session but I’m sure it'll be loads of fun once I’ve prepped for it.”

The young people are sharing their interests with others while developing a whole range of skills. This boosts their resilience and connection to their community and is especially vital during this time of increased isolation under Covid restrictions, which affect LGBT people more acutely as they are often not able to be out at home. Moving our work online has helped remove barriers to participation and allows young people to take the lead in front of their peers while enjoying the comfort of being behind a screen.

Digital youth work is empowering and exciting, and I look forward to continuing with this trajectory where young people inspire and amaze me, and themselves.

By Leo Marsh, Youth Worker

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