By: Lacey Swamy (She/They), Youth Leader, Writing from Treaty 22 Land
For years, I thought I was white. Truth be told, I never felt ‘brown enough’ to identify as anything else. I’m half Guyanese and half British, making my skin tone definitely not white. It wasn’t until I was 14, at the start of the pandemic, that I realized I was biracial. Then at 15, I began to consider myself a person of colour, and at 16, I finally believed it. I would love to stand here and say I just woke up one day and understood my race and accepted it. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Being surrounded by predominantly white people all through elementary and middle school, I learned very little about other racial identities.
Going into online school, because of the pandemic, I spent more time on social media and eventually had the resources to learn more about myself. I remember being grateful enough to attend a Leadership Diversity conference, where I joined their biracial affinity group, within which I could share common struggles and feel connected with people going through the same thing. Isolation also allowed me to discover my sexuality after dealing with lots of internalized homophobia. Hearing powerful 2SLGBTQ+ voices on various platforms gave me the strength to come out as queer to a few friends.
I haven’t felt that same amount of comfort after returning to in-person spaces. Many institutions still display heteronormative/binary values, slip up with microaggressions, and lack diverse role models. The culture makes me feel different, and not the good kind of different, rather often the outcast type. At my school, I tried to start a multiracial affinity group, but no teacher volunteered to run it. Since then, all aspects of my identity have felt like a triangle peg struggling to fit into a circle box. I haven’t had access to any other 2SLGBTQ+ friendly or racial affinity groups I resonate with outside of my school. I feel fortunate to have a great group of friends who support me, but it’s so difficult to feel like I belong without those safe spaces.
Halton Youth need to Belong, so they can Thrive
This lack of inclusion is prevalent for many students in Halton. Findings from the Halton Youth Impact Survey stated that only six out of 10 youth reported having a somewhat strong or strong sense of belonging to their community. Although that may seem high, think of those four in 10 adolescents who are struggling, wishing for understanding and acceptance. 24% of youth felt isolated from their communities and 29% felt lonely. In terms of youth expression, only 50% felt confident to think or express their ideas and opinions every day or almost every day… leaving half unvoiced.
We must rethink and explore how our communities make youth feel. As a teenager, I hope to see more authentic youth engagement, stronger networks of positive relationships, and everyone of all backgrounds and abilities having access to support resources and activities. In other words, I don’t want a pride profile picture solely in June, make it the whole year! Institutions and organizations should start asking themselves:
- Do our services reach all youth?
- What does ‘belonging’ mean to our young staff?
- What are some daily reminders or actions we can take to support our youth?
- Are they able to be leaders and have their voices heard?
- How can we connect with those who feel isolated?
I believe the change to a more inclusive Halton starts with an attempt to answer those questions.
Halton Youth Impact Survey Relationships Results
About the Halton Youth Impact Survey Results
Relationships Results Bulletin
Developmental Relationships are the Foundations for Young People’s Success