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‘Void’ of support services for LGBTQ youth

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Community workers have expressed their concern at a void of support services aimed directly at young people dealing with sexual identity issues in Bermuda.

The Bermuda Government does not fund any programmes specifically for LGBTQ youth, The Royal Gazette has discovered, and there are no charities offering targeted services.

The issue of whether same-sex marriage should be legalised here is under discussion but some believe it is vital to first acknowledge the existence of the young LGBTQ community and ensure it has the help it needs.

Martha Dismont, executive director at Family Centre, said a recent study on care services in Bermuda by the Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families showed there was nothing here directed at LGBTQ youth.

“I don't think there is anything blatantly out there that a young person can say ‘let me go to this',” she said. “In this regard, unfortunately, I think there is a bit of a void.

“It's problematic that it doesn't exist because any issue on the island that's prevalent for any group needs a service. Without a doubt, it's problematic. Bermuda is just so underdeveloped in this area.”

Ms Dismont said Bermuda was “catching up” on the topic and needed to ensure any services set up had the right expertise.

“There's awareness first, then you educate and put the proper framework in place. It needs to be with people with a solid understanding of the issue.

“In this smaller environment, we don't have a huge level of expertise in all the areas [where there are gaps in services].

“We are just getting awareness of the issue. Meanwhile, people are definitely struggling with it. It's an issue that I think needs to be identified and the level of need needs to be raised.”

Kelly Madeiros, a clinical social worker and director of Solstice holistic wellness centre, said: “There is a gap in services for youth who identify as something other than heterosexual.”

She described her private clinic as “LGBT-friendly” and said her therapists saw people of all sexual orientations.

But she bemoaned the lack of specific programmes for LGBTQ youth on the island, particularly a safe house for those needing refuge.

Ms Madeiros said she attended an LGBT inclusion panel discussion hosted by the United States Consulate in 2014, where the issue of youngsters being beaten by relatives because of their sexual orientation was raised.

“You get a very macho dad who finds out his son is gay; it happens all the time,” she said. “In any city, there would be safe houses. As soon as parents find out, a lot of time, the reaction is to disown people.”

Shari-Lynn Pringle, a self-described outspoken LGBTQ and human rights advocate, was disowned by relatives when she came out in her forties, resulting in her having to leave her family owned apartment.

The estrangement was resolved after three years but she said there was nothing on the island in terms of support for people in such situations.

“There is no safe house, no temporary housing. There is nowhere for them to go,” she said.

She said the Government had a responsibility to fund support services, whether through its own programmes or with grants to appropriate organisations, and should have been doing so since sex between adult men was decriminalised in 1994.

“Until the mindset is that we are all just humans who happen to fall in love with whoever we fall in love with, there will need to be organisations that can help people deal with this.”

US-based counsellor Maxim Alkon, a Bermudian who plans to return to the island to offer workshops on emotional and social issues, said: “There is definitely a void for LGBTQ youth, as there is for LGBTQ adults.

“It's not just about providing support services to the LGBTQ youth, it's also about providing resources for their parents, as it's hard enough raising a ‘normal' child, but harder to raise a child that is seen and perceived as being not normal and acceptable by society.”

The Department of Education does not fund programmes for LGBT youth but says it “remains responsive to the needs of our student population”.

A community ministry spokeswoman said: “There are no programmes directed specifically towards this population. Cases are dealt with on an individual basis and the appropriate services and resources are provided.”

A Ministry of Health spokesman said there were no specific services for LGBT youth but school health services were available to all, regardless of sexual orientation.

“The school nurse and communicable disease programmes assist with sexual health education in schools and this helps educators by having specialised, experienced nurses on hand for lessons and to handle sensitive questions appropriately.”

Elaine Butterfield, executive director of the Centre of Philanthropy, said of the charitable sector: “It appears that there are no specific services.”

Personal experience: human rights advocate Shari-Lynn Pringle
Need for expertise: Martha Dismont, executive director at Family Centre, said a recent study found there was nothing here directed towards LGBTQ youth
Gap in services: Kelly Madeiros, a clinical social worker, bemoaned the lack of specific programmes for LGBTQ youth
Planning workshops: Bermudian counsellor Maxim Alkon is hoping to offer support on emotional and social issues
<p>Hotline to help with identity issues </p>

Campaigners are hoping to set up a telephone hotline to help young people grappling with sexual identity issues in Bermuda.

The Gay Straight Alliance — a group seeking to advance LGBTQ* rights on the island — announced its plan on Facebook, telling followers: “We are trying to raise funds for our own help desk.

“A local one, with people who understand our culture, values, and traditions, and can best serve our Bermudian youth and even our adults.”

GSA founder Jordan Sousa told The Royal Gazette: “There are sufficient crisis services available on the island to meet demand. Our goal in creating a help desk for LGBTQ youth, especially, is to deal not with emergency situations but with coping skills and life strategies to handle issues that LGBTQ youth may face, like parental disapproval, discrimination and bullying.

“Other people who may be concerned or dealing with their child being LGBTQ or simply other people in the community [will be] welcome to call as well on LGBTQ-related matters.”

Mr Sousa said the group, which is not registered as a charity, was seeking advice from the Charity Commissioners on fundraising for the project.

* The acronym LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.

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Published February 05, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated February 05, 2016 at 1:30 am)

‘Void’ of support services for LGBTQ youth

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