You Belong is a weekly, ongoing, after-school drop-in program designed and facilitated by Toronto Public Library Youth Services Librarian Sepideh Mckensy to provide an inclusive and welcoming space for LGBTQ+ young people in the suburbs outside Toronto. The group host one creative LGBTQ+ guest speaker or fabulously fun event every month. Youth get the opportunity, along with their peers, to select and plan the events, create displays, design fliers and be a part of the promotion. This is an opportunity for youth with shared values to network, have fun and make a difference!
In terms of a general overview, the program is structured so that each month the group works towards hosting one big event or guest speaker. The youth work together to prepare for this event or speaker, advertise, put up displays in the library, prepare decoration and plan.
Some examples of events the group has organized include:
An LGBTQ+ Film festival – in partnership with the local LGBTQ+ film organization Inside Out the group showed films all month long.
Queer Prom (Food, dancing, balloons)
(Here is a link for the local newspaper article they did on this event
In Toronto most LGBTQ+ organizations are located downtown, so the group makes an effort to get all those organizations to come out to a more suburban branch and do satellite programming or guest speaking engagements where they talk about their organizations, so that all those that cannot travel downtown or that never even knew they existed can be better connected.
This type of programming can take a long time to get off the ground – facilitators need to build trust in youth. It can be hard for word to get around since advertising can be tricky, and it’s important not to “out” youth or put them in unsafe situations. But after a year the group has see a huge increase in stats – almost 20 youth came out to the Queer Prom. As for all teen programming attendance can be up and down, but the group went from zero youth to 7 consistent members, and many more come in and out. You Belong really is a platform for youth to feel safe, connect with other youth just like them and be better educated on topics that relate to them. Mentorship is key, and participants have really found the guest speakers to be inspiring.
The facilitator always starts each session with a round table introduction, including preferred pronouns, and giving teens a chance to talk about how their week has been, and their ups and downs. Then they move on to a group discussion – sometimes they’ll talk about something going on in the world, or something closer to home that concerns them. Then they start to plan or prep for an event or program. Here and there they add fun things like field trips and parties.
Group facilitator Sepideh has very kindly and generously offered to answer any questions library staff might have to help libraries in other provinces start their own LGBTQ+ youth groups, saying
“Let me know if you have any questions and if I can help in any other way. I commend you in BC for starting up programs like this and taking the initiative to take on this challenge. As difficult it may be with many obstacles it is so rewarding and so very much necessary. I hope one day programs of this nature are as common place as any other programs that librarians conduct.”
A massive thank you to Sepideh for sharing this valuable information!
For more information on You Belong, visit Sepideh’s post on the American Library Association’s Programming Librarian blog.
Does your library offer LGBTQ+ programs for youth, seniors, or any other demographic! Sharing is caring, so help your colleagues across the province better serve their patrons by sharing your knowledge and experiences!