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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

LGBT YouthLine Marks Historic 30th Anniversary

ABOVE (clockwise): Tim Guimond, Krista Phillipchuk, and other Youth Line supporters at launch in 1994 / Youth Line at Pride Day 1998 / Youth Line at Pride 2012 / Youth Line at Pride Day 1998 (Photos: The ArQuives)

Ontario’s LGBT YouthLine Marks Historic 30th Anniversary

Forever young: YouthLine celebrates 30 years of confidential, non-judgemental peer support on May 2, 2024. Here’s more on the vital Ontario-based organization and their work within the community…

Being a queer or trans youth 30 years ago meant living in a world a decade before the legalization of gay marriage in Canada, watching Bill 167 for same-sex civil unions fail to pass in parliament. It meant hoping for protection for gender identity as a class that would not come for close to another 25 years. It was in that environment that LGBT YouthLine first opened its phone lines to 2SLGBTQI+ youth back in 1994. As of May 2, YouthLine will have been in operation for a full three decades. For an organization supporting queer and trans youth 29 and under, it means accepting that it, itself, is no longer a youth

When a group of young queer and trans folks came together to found this scrappy organization, they understood that there was a need for youth-centered peer support for 2SLGBTQI+ youth not just in Toronto, but across the entire province of Ontario. Youth called in from truck stops, libraries, their workplaces to talk to someone who could relate. 70% of the 2,995 youth who reached out to the peer support line last year were from outside of Toronto, but YouthLine has hung up the corded landline telephones featured in its earliest logo in exchange for a text-and-chat only model, another sign of the times. Once a rag-tag group working out of downtown Toronto, YouthLine’s staff and volunteers themselves now call just about every corner of the province home, with over half of YouthLine’s 60+ youth volunteers living outside the city. 

Where outreach to youth once looked like sticker campaigns and ads in the Whitepages (if nothing else underscores just how long YouthLine has been a source of comfort for youth, that should!), it now looks like social media campaigns, podcasts, and workshops across Ontario.

In the 1990s, the organization was known as LGB YouthLine and was focused on achieving gender parity for volunteers, with just 1% of callers self-identifying as trans. When marriage equality officially became legalized across Canada in 2005, YouthLine was already laying the groundwork for the next steps in the fight for equal rights for all members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community – incorporating ‘T’ into the existing LGB YouthLine name under the leadership of Kyle Scanlon, the first out trans man to serve as an Executive Director of a queer agency in Canada. Fast forward through three decades of work, and most of the volunteer base now identifies as trans, with 62% of service users also identifying as such. 

With all the progress and change that took place over the past three decades, much remains the same. We are seeing the well-worn political rhetoric and scapegoating used to enforce anti-homosexuality laws, terrorize queer public servants, punish those who contracted HIV, and fight marriage equality now directed towards trans folks and queer youth. The continued use of this tired playbook speaks to YouthLine’s continued importance and relevance.

After thirty years, volunteers still help peers navigate the struggles of being a young member of the community – family, dating, and navigating their understanding of their identities. Meanwhile, where the challenge was once finding queer and trans representation and acceptance, the challenge has evolved to be one of accessing spaces and communities that feel authentic to their experiences or finding room to express themselves comfortably at the intersection of all their identities.  

YouthLine is now entering a new ‘era’ – some might say their ‘adult’ era. Over thirty years LGBT YouthLine has honoured young queer leaders, created platforms and projects for skill-building, collaborated with many other organizations, and celebrated our communities! Through it all, there has been a thread of mutual care, connection, and a focus on centering the experience and voices of 2SLGBTQ+ youth. At 30, the work is still only beginning – and YouthLine will be there every step of the way, as they have been since 1994.

For more information on YouthLine and their confidential, non-judgemental peer support through text and chat, visit youthline.ca.

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