Community stories: 31 May 2023
Contribute to the Change was one of the project ideas developed at the 2021 Heywire Ideas Lab. The group of young people who developed the idea wanted to see mental health support become destigmatised and delivered in ways that were personalised to meet the needs of young people.
Riverland Youth Theatre (RYT), based in Renmark SA, adapted the Contribute to the Change idea to deliver a costume design project for young queer people in the Riverlands. Their project was called There I Am, and encouraged young queer people to image and create the best version of themselves through imaginative and colourful costumes.
RYT identified that within the region there were few safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth to explore their identity, nor groups aimed at supporting them. This resulted in a decline in mental health, and young people leaving the community because they lacked accepting and supportive adults and peers in their community. RYT developed There I Am to address this issue, aiming to create a safe, supportive environment where young struggling LGBTQIA+ youth could come and explore their authentic selves.
Participants spent five days working with a costume designer to create a costume that told their story and helped them imagine the person they wanted to be. The project built on the idea that self-expression through clothing can be an affirming and validating act for queer youth who are exploring their identity.
“I feel like my outfit kind of says ‘hey I’m here, I might not be able to talk, but I am still a person, and I can be present here, even if I don’t feel like it that much.”
Rowan, one of the youth participants, said that their costume helped them feel in control in a world where they have little control. “I kind of based it on a part of myself that I’ve suppressed over the years and bringing that into the light. With my costume it’s about being able to control whatever I want and it can all go perfectly.“
Projects such as There I Am have begun to establish Riverland Youth Theatre as a safe space for queer young people in the Riverlands. Youth have a place where they can seek support and be their authentic selves.
The FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grants have continued to support the development of this safe space for LGBTQIA+ youth in Riverlands with another grant in 2022 for The Allies Project, which they once again adapted to their specific local context. Their project, Ally Merit Pins and Awards, empowers teens to decide what an ‘ally’ is and makes allies more visible.
The concept was developed by a young non-binary student who suffered from homophobic bullying and spoke of their exhaustion of not knowing which adults were safe or supportive. They proposed the merit badges as a way to encourage schools to be proactive in creating safe spaces for queer students and empower the queer community within their school. The project was awarded a $10,000 Heywire Grant and will be delivered in 2023, continuing to ensure that there a place within the Riverlands where LGBTQIA+ youth can find their tribe.