LGBT Youth Line: The Power of Chosen Family

By: Noah Myles Grayson

Tamar: I hate talking on the phone, um (laughs).

Noah: I totally do too.

Tamar: Yeah, it is the worst. Sometimes, so.

Noah: It takes a certain person to dedicate their emotional support to aid those who need it most, to lend a hand to individuals in the direst of times, and to ultimately be willing to connect with a stranger for the sake of another’s wellbeing.

This kind of person is Tamar Brannigan, a femme gender queer individual who works at the LGBT Youth Line. They only recently moved to Toronto, coming from the small town of Welland in the Niagara region. Tamar is an energetic, happy-go-lucky soul whose position as outreach coordinator has granted them many opportunities to touch the lives of others.

Besides their loving tone and friendly demeanour, there are multiple reasons why Tamar is able to work at Youth Line, and one major reason is their individuality and personal knowledge. The unique staff at Youth Line is the reason why it is loved by all queer youth and like no other organization out there.

(Intro)

The Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans Youth line, known as the LGBT Youth line, is an organization that has been functioning since 1994, specializing in peer-support, focusing on those who identify as lesbian, gay, trans, questioning, or queer in any way through three types of support: phone calling, online chat, and text message.

By being so diverse, you receive care like no other at Youth Line. The staff are all queer youth, a reason why Tamar loves their job.

Tamar: So, in terms of me, I, I like, as like a genderqueer person and a black person, like a queer person, um, I like love working with the community um I like having like a support of like people who have similar experiences to me, I like being able to like be myself in my workplace and in like as many aspects as my life as I can be.

Um, and so definitely being in a place where I am able to work with people that are like similar to me in like age and experiences Youth Line is like intentionally like by-POC oriented, like very specifically with black indigenous, people of colour, um who are queer.

We reach out and like really want to prioritize and centre people with disabilities or make people who are newcomers it’s like really great for me and feels really safe for me to be in an organization that does like really rad work um that is so like focused on like having a space that is safe for people with mental illness, and like there are tons of black people where I work right and that is something that is super important to me um and draws me in. Specifically about my job, like I do outreach and I love meeting people and talking to people, and I just get to like make friends all the time, all around Ontario and like build relationships and connections and I like love that about my job.

And I like think it is similar to everyone, like staff, volunteers, board members, um they want to be able to find connections and build community, and be like doing work that is meaningful in a way that is like as anti-oppressive, and equitable, and anti-racist, and all those things, and like do that in a very real and tangible way, so I think Youth Line is a really unique organization that really prioritizes.

Noah: With that, youth Line deals with an array of situations where as a closely knit staff they may confide in each other.

Tamar: How to come out, apprehensive of like what will happen, they are not sure how to do it, if they should tell everyone, if they should tell one person, they need to safety plan, explore their options, um so those are some of the things are volunteers work through.

A lot of the times, it is just like listening to people, right? Um, not so much giving advice which is just like people need to process before they make decisions in their life. We get, uh, relationships, like someone wants to ask someone out, like they just gone through a breakup, or um, like somethings going on in one of their friendships, and they need someone to talk to about it. Um, we have people calling in asking about where they can get binders, or can find doctors that are trans friendly or queer friendly where they can get sexual health information.

Uh, and we definitely pass on resources. As much as we do like active listening and like being like a friend to somebody, we also do resources referral, um we get a lot of questions about identity, um, like, I don’t know if I am trans, I am questioning, I have feelings like this, what does this mean. Am I gay? (laughs) Or, uh, so a lot of conversations about identity and what it means to be like in the queer community.

Um, yeah, we also want to encourage people to reach out to us, not if there is just something going on, if they are having a problem, but it’s hard say, if you are in a rural community, right, cause Toronto, the GTA I feel there is a lot of support queer folks and you know, everyone gravitates towards these like urban, metropolises because um this is where resources are, but if you go anywhere outside of like, the GTA, there is nothing. Even if you are in Mississauga there is not much, right.

Um, there are some really great grassroots and like um community driven supports but long term, there is nothing (laughs). So yeah, especially for people who are in more remote, rural areas just like having someone to be like: “I had a great day.” (laughs) Just to talk to someone friendly and understanding like we want that to be a service we provide too. Right, we are happy just to like what about like: “what did you learn at school today” or “what’s up with your birthday?” (laughs) Like, we are also there to provide.

Noah: Youth line is geared towards a certain community, which is that of the LGBTQ community.

From two-spirited individuals to those who are questioning Youth Line tailors to all queer youth. It should be made clear that they are not a crisis line, but a peer support line. Regardless of the type of organization it is, there are some drawback when dealing with certain situations.

However, when a person dedicates their time, emotional strength, and support to an individual who needs assistance repeatedly, it is hard to imagine that anyone would not feel exhausted afterward. This feeling of tiredness, to say it simply, is called burnout.

“Burnout is defined as a syndrome incorporating three distinct components: emotional exhaustion, reduced personal accomplishment, and depersonalization” (Ogus, 3).


Noah: The volunteers and staff at Youth Line are an eclectic bunch, their knowledge and support being their textbook. Since these volunteers derive their guidance from personal experiences and knowledge, the need for support for themselves is a necessity. The staff at youth line is very special because they rely on each other for support, guidance, and aid. Each one of the staff members, as a collective, work together to strengthen and improve each other’s mental health. It is that family-esque vibe that deems Youth Line very special.

Noah: What types of things have you learned from it (Youth Line) and how have you grown since you have started?

Tamar: Yeah, um, I definitely love my job, I have been working with Youth Line for about a year and a half now? Um, it is like one of the jobs, one of the few jobs I have had where I am like: “I want to stay here” and um, continue doing work with this organization in different capacities. It’s like incredible, I have such wonderful, wonderful relationships with people at work who have taught me so much and have shared so much of their knowledge and wisdom with me.

I have learned a lot about, practically, community organizations within Ontario. Um, if I were to move to Sudbury I would know where to get support, I know which doctors are like cool, and which organizations would be supportive.

I have a lot of useable, practical knowledge. Um, I have also have had really great conversations about race um, I grew up in a very small town with like, no black people (laughs). Um, so like being in a POC organization has given me such a link not to just the queer community, but to the to the black community, and the POC community, um, and I have had so many incredible connections with indigenous people, who have shared teachings with me that are absolutely invaluable. I have learned about different types of support, how to be like a support person who is not crappy (laughs) uh, and really radical stuff like that.

Yeah, what was the last question?

Noah: What have you learned from it, but I feel as if-

Tamar: Yeah, a lot. A lot of good stuff (laughs).

Noah: Well, the last question is your job rewarding, and I know you kind just told me what was so rewarding, your knowledge, but what is so-

Tamar: It is super rewarding, I am so proud to be somebody who is working with Youth Line, you know, I can say specifically that there are things I do that make me feel good, like workshops that I do end up going well, and people give good feedback, stuff like that. Those are the best, best things about working at Youth Line.

Since we’ve been around so long, we are one of the only organizations like us, like we are really unique. So many people have accessed our services over the twenty-three years we have been around and, uh, I’ll walk into any space, and be like: “I work at Youth Line” and someone is like “I used to volunteer for you! I have called you before! Oh my gosh, I donate to Youth Line, I am a monthly donor. I found your outreach information in my counsellor’s office. I love Youth Line!” people love this organization, and just hearing the positive feedback and like real, real, real, life-saving, positive experiences that people have had over two decades, with our organization is like unreal.

Noah: That is insane.

Tamar: To be part of an organization that has such a ripple effect and even like, I get emails and calls outside of the province saying: “I have heard about your organization, like, do you work in Quebec, do you work in Winnipeg? Can we get material from you, like how do you do this thing. People really look at us a as model, it like really, really amazing to be part of like that history and legacy, but to also be part of transforming, like, always, always, always transforming our organization to be better at what we do and to be more connected.

Noah: Aw, that is so- I love hearing this, this is great, I want to know more. Do you have any other things you think can contribute to this podcast? I know you touched upon everything, but is there anything you want to include?

Tamar: Yeah, another thing that is really cool about Youth Line is we try to be super accessible. And uh, it like, access is really important OBVIOUSLY and I, we talked before about how having an organization that is specifically queer friendly, and POC friendly, is really important.

But also, we try to expand out accessibility in other ways. Like, over the summer we had an amazing deaf outreach coordinator, community coordinator, and was trying to do research on how we can make our organization more accessible to people who are deaf, um, so our staff learned ASL, like rudimentary ASL, but like, we, we were like able to communicate and have conversations like my ASL is pretty good now, and we have really done work to uh, make our service more accessible to deaf people so we put out video blogs,  we have ASL Videos on what it is like to be trans, and having 101 videos, so that people who are deaf can still gain information about queer community.

We make sure all bathrooms are genderless, and all food is vegan and gluten free, so everyone can participate as much as possible.

Noah: 7% of youth in general have attempted suicide, while 33 percent of LGB youth have attempted suicide (eGale). LGB youth that are rejected by their families because of their identity are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers (eGale). Also, In LGBT people, there are higher rates of suicidality and self-harm, depression, and anxiety (omtario.cmha).

Noah: From personal experience, I understand why an organization such as Youth Line is needed for queer youth. Being closeted at my house, in an environment I knew would have difficulty understanding, I was isolated.

In between all the hardships of struggling with major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, self-harm, insomnia, suicide, and other mental health related things, Youth Line was like the comfort I never had during this, and even though it is not a crisis line, it had saved my life countless time. The amount of personal connection I gained with the text on the screen, spoke volumes. It was not some person spewing lines from a textbook, it was someone speaking from their heart.

(Outro)

 

I want to thank Tamar Brannigan for letting me interview them, and to Youth Line as a whole. I am so very grateful and So happy to be able to learn more about this inspiring organizations.

Also, credit to Bensound, for the music 'Tomorrow' and 'Better Days'.

Other Resources: 

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