To say that PRYSM, and its impact on our youth, has surpassed our wildest dreams is an understatement. In the fall of 2017, a few Airdrie Pride board members met for coffee with the intention of identifying the needs of the LGBTQ2S+ community in Airdrie. We had recently reviewed the City of Airdrie’s Youth Needs Assessment, and what stood out for us was the request by youth for safe inclusive spaces.
We set about to connect with the youth in Airdrie high schools to see what they needed and wanted. What we heard loud a clear was a space to connect with other youth outside of school, and support for their parents.
Many Sunday mornings were spent drinking copious amounts of coffee and musing about how we wanted to impact our city of Airdrie. We reverently recognized the importance of school GSA’s and the work those teachers were doing to create spaces for acceptance while talking youth through school breaks, how to talk to their parents, and having fun. What if we could create an opportunity for these pockets of youth in schools to meet each other and feel less alone? Moreover, how could we support the youth that weren’t finding acceptance in their school?
It is well know that people in the LGBTQ2S+ community have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and death by suicide, and a part of this comes from lack of acceptance and isolation. If we could create protective factors against suicide for just one person it would all be worth it.
On December 29th, on a night where the wind-chill was hovering near -40 we had 10 youth show up for our first Community GSA, and out of that night came the name PRYSM (PRide Youth Social Movement). We created a place for these youth to be their authentic selves. Over the past 7 months, I have seen these kids, who were so nervous that first night, flourish in friendship and the connection to others who are experiencing similar things. We have talked about the social anxiety experienced while shopping in the thrift store for items that supported their identity. We have opened the conversation around reaching out for help if there are thoughts of self harm or suicide. We have normalized discussion around healthy relationships and what safe sex looks like for the queer community. We have engaged in the community as well.
These youth have created friendships outside of the PRYSM group that are changing lives. At a recent community coffee meet-up a mom was expressing her frustration around judgment she was facing in her small town and the fact that no one may come to her son’s birthday party. Almost immediately, this young man’s PRYSM friends rallied to attend his birthday party, a party that now exemplifies fierce acceptance.
I could go on for days about what I get to witness at PRYSM, moments that make my heart burst, but for now I will share with you with the words from both our youth and parents.
“We live in a small secluded town that can be a bit closed-minded and old school so we’ve had MANY challenges the last 6 months. Single mom without a giant support system as well. I don’t know how we could’ve made it through without the fellowship my son has found through his PRYSM friends. I am so grateful he has found a group of beautiful friends to spend time with, and it’s amazing to watch him get excited for events and meetups with them. It’s exactly what my kid needed.”
“The Airdrie Pride Society has become a sense of home. The PRYSM group has become my safe space – a place where I can be unapologetically queer. Not only does this group provide a sense of security but a sense of welcomeness as well. The people in the PRYSM group are very open and friendly and most of us have extended out relationships outside of the group. I know that those people have my back and I know that I will always have a shoulder to cry on, or 9. Those people have helped me in so many ways. I’m very thankful for the people I’ve met in PRYSM and the things I’ve learned.”
“ I can’t say thank you enough for PRYSM. My child has enjoyed all the time they have spent with the group and doing as many of the activities as they can. It’s made them comfortable with their identity and made some really great friends. Please continue what you’re doing!”
“ I look forward to having PRYSM every month. It’s helped with my social life, but I think having it two times monthly would be better. I’ve made so many friends and I’ve learned so much, so I give it a solid 4 stars.”
We are supporting these kids in being themselves, and we are seeing our city support them as well. We celebrated when the pride flag was raised in June this year, and were awestruck when we saw the support for our float, and youth, in the Canada Day Parade. Airdrie is a beautiful place to live, and the voices of the supportive are now booming loud and clear.