The Municipality of Linköping, Sweden, has invested (except for open youth work) in youth work targeted and specific for exposed and marginalized groups. In the case of Liquid – Linköping Queer Identity, we target one of these groups: LGBTQ youths (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender and Queer).
I am working as senior youth worker and manager at Liquid for 5 years now and see a connection between the experiences young people make with us and their participation in other areas of life/society. Stigma often results in exclusion which in turn can create an individual who has a feeling of not being able to influence society, or a feeling of exclusion. Our work can help young LGBTQ people to overcome this feeling and develop a wish to change the greater context for the better.
30% of youths that don´t see themselves as heterosexuals, have refrained from going to a leisure activity for fear of not being received well
Liquid was established in 2012. Visitors at our central youth club were requesting specific opening nights and activities for this group of youths. At the same period of time The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society reported statistics showing that LGBTQ youths are of poorer health, mostly caused by exposure to bullying, discrimination, threats and violence (https://eng.mucf.se/publications/about-lgbt-youth-health). A few years later they also reported that 30% of youths that don´t see themselves as heterosexuals, have refrained from going to a leisure activity for fear of not being received well (https://eng.mucf.se/publications/summary-fokus-14). These were some of the arguments that lead to the establishment of Liquid.
Liquid is opened once a week for young people aged 12-19. They can participate in different kinds of workshops, hang out with friends, play music, watch movies and enjoy other activities. As youth workers at Liquid our main assignment is to set the framework for the activities, be supportive adults and give the youths tools to develop themselves. Many of Liquid´s visitors don’t visit “ordinary” youth clubs, but in time some of them comes to visit our youth club even on other nights (the youth club is opened six days a week, Liquid is one of them). One of our aims is to create a safe environment so that this group of youths feels safe even in the “open, ordinary” activities.
But can targeted youth work contribute to these youth’s participation, inclusion and citizenship over all? My view is that the majority of the visitors at Liquid doesn´t relate to mainstream society. Foremost in the light of gender identity and/or sexuality.
As a visitor once decsribed it: “I had just started high school and everything was new. It´s a very vulnerable period, regardless of who you are. I had problems finding people that I could connect to. Suddenly I was very exposed since I didn´t fit into social norms.”
In targeted youth work offers such as Liquid, these young people- sometimes for the first time – can get a sensation, or feeling of for once” be a part of the norm”, as a contrast to their everyday life.
This can be a life changing experience and an eye opener, as this comment illustrates “For me, Liquid was a safe space when many other things in my life was chaotic. Finally, I met LGBTQ people my age that had similar experiences and that accepted me, not only as a man but as many other things.”
I also found adult role models, whom was LGBTQ, that was new to me.
For young people, role models can be extra important and impactful. Therefore, we actively work with representation of all the letters in the term” LGBTQ”. This shows and visualizes that a future outside of the heteronorm is possible. The heteronorm, briefly explained, includes expectations that we are all heterosexuals, that there only exists man and woman, but also that we have to act in a certain way because of our gender.
A visitor once put it like that: “I also found adult role models, whom was LGBTQ, that was new to me. They took their time to really listen. They could answer many of my questions. It gave me hope to meet adult LGBTQ persons who was engaged in this issues.”
At Liquid, one purpose is to include, and create a feeling of acceptance – to become an active part of the LGBTQ community. The feeling of participation and inclusion in a smaller context, as in this example, may become a tool and create self-esteem to actively participate in the greater context; in social issues overall. They get a reminder and a feeling that they are not alone. To be a part of something larger than one self and to feel included is, as we all know, a crucial factor for human well-being. I believe that this can reduce the feeling of exclusion, or at least provide them with a tool with which they can handle their situation. This can contribute to better self-esteem and self-awareness and in the longer perspective also help these young people feel comfortable to participate in an active citizenship.
At Liquid we regularly discuss restrictive social norms; how they are working and what effects they have on a structural level as well as on an individual level.
My experience is that visitors whom have felt lonely and misplaced and previously blamed themselves, view themselves and society in a different light when we do this. This can lead to a desire to change society and the restrictive social norms, instead of trying to change who you are. Some of the visitors engage in LGBTQ-rights for example by organizing Pride-parades or actively work with these issues in their school environment. For example they say: “I learned a lot about LGBTQ history and about how the situation is for LGBTQ people today. They gave me a new perspective and motivation to change the situation for the better. (…) To experience that commitment made a huge difference to me, it shows that we actually can make a change on society, big and small.”
Working with marginalized youths in targeted open youth work, the most important thing is to create a safe space where the visitors can develop their self-esteem and expand their social network. But I also realize the importance of making all arenas (youth centres, schools etc.) more inclusive by spreading knowledge about this issue. I think Liquid can help the visitors to get a feeling of inclusion and belonging that they can bring out of Liquid to make an impact on society, as this quote from a visitor illustrates: “My self-image is very different now. I´m more positive to life overall. I have more respect for myself and I know that my experiences are valuable and that my ideas are worth a shot. I´m not alone trying to make the society better for LGBTQ people. I have clear aims and tools to accomplish what I want. (…) I know it´s not all about me.”
All these experiences and concrete examples of our visitors give us clear indicators that supporting these young people in a safe environment adds to their overall participation in society, still It would be interesting to see some further research on that point!
Find more in the article
“Open youth work in a closed environment –
The case of the youth club Liquid“
by Lars Lagergren and Emma Gustava Nilsson, published in the 1. edition of the “International Journal on Open Youth Work” here.
by Emma Gustave Nilsson (2017)
is a senior youth worker and manager at Liquid (Linköping Queer Identity) Youth Club
Photos: Portrait Emma © Dan Forsberg all other © LIQUID