Good Causes

How an LGBTQI+ youth club helped Xavier find their tribe

School was problematic for Xavier Beardwood. As a student at a single-sex school in Derry, Northern Ireland, they had always felt different and struggled to fit in.

Xavier said, “Some people made transphobic and homophobic comments to me. I never felt comfortable there, I didn’t even feel like I could talk to the teachers about the way I was feeling.”

Xavier was 13 when they first came out. They said, “It took me a long time to get the confidence to do that and it was really hard to tell my family but they have been very supportive. I feel I can be myself now, which is definitely less stressful.”

It was around this time that Xavier went to their first Pride. They said, “I was just amazed at how many people were there. I’d felt very alone when I came out, but going into this space full of so many people like me, or people who support the community, was an amazing experience. It felt really affirming.”

Whilst at Pride, Xavier heard about an LGBTQI+ youth club run by a National Lottery-supported organisation called The Rainbow Project. Summoning all their courage, they decided to go to one of its once-a-week gatherings.

Once again, it was a transformational experience. They said, “I remember walking in and not knowing anyone in that space – it was pretty daunting. I was terrified at first, but very quickly I began to feel at ease. I was soon joking around with people.”

Xavier met someone who would become their closest friend on that first visit and the youth club is still an important part of their life. At 18 they became a volunteer with The Rainbow Project. They said, “It was around that time I realised I wanted to get into youth work. Being a participant in the project made me realise the real value in youth work and made me want to go into it as a career.”

Xavier, now 23, has become a youth worker at The Rainbow Project and their experiences allow them to be empathetic when young people come to the youth club for the first time. They said, “I see young people coming in and being really nervous and quiet at first. I can definitely relate to how they’re feeling and welcome them into the space.”

The youth club is run twice a week with under 18s attending the Wednesday evening session and 18-25-year-olds coming to a Friday evening gathering. As well as socialising, there are plenty of creative activities such as screenprinting and quilting. The club also offers health and wellbeing programmes and has a youth counsellor.

What would Xavier say to a young person in Derry who was trying to summon the courage to make their first visit? They said, “I think I would just let them know that everyone comes into this space with respect and kindness. We’re always really excited to meet new people and make them feel welcome.”

28th May 2024

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