4 June 2019 | North West England
Pioneering youth group helps trans teens cope with challenges.
Growing up can be tough for all teens but for young people who think they might be transgender, it can feel particularly isolating and confusing.
In Manchester, an inspirational support group is bringing young trans people together, with amazing results. The Proud Trust Manchester trans youth group, whose leaders are all transgender themselves, was founded in 2012. It is the largest group in the North West and young people are referred by parents, schools and social and mental health services.
Youth worker Sam Cresswell explains: “The young people who come to us might not have met anyone else like them. They can feel isolated and lacking information, but then they come here and meet and mix with other trans young people for the first time and finally feel like they are in a safe place where they can express and be themselves.
“I recently worked with one young person who was assigned female at birth but now identifies as male. He came along with his dad was very nervous and depressed. The dad was desperate just to get his child the support they needed and understand what he was feeling.
“He wanted to know he was supporting his child in the right way, and doing the right thing. The great thing we encounter is that most of our parents are supportive. They might be worried at first, but at the end of the day they just want their child to be happy.
“We introduced the young person to our trans youth group and soon enough he was fitting right in, making friends and going on activities like swimming, which he had not been comfortable going on before.
“Now he feels supported, the fact he is trans is not such a big issue anymore, and he can start concentrating on the other important issues like his school exams. He is a different child now, happy and always laughing.”
The trans youth group was set up by North West LGBT+ organisation The Proud Trust. The specialist team engage with over 10,000 young people from all over the region every year.
Trans is an umbrella term used to describe someone whose gender identity does not align or match with the sex and gender role they were assigned at birth. They may identify as a female, as gender neutral, or as something else. Current figures suggest around 2% of the population identify as transgender.
The Proud Trust offers one-to-one support, as well as various activities like private swimming and canoeing classes and most importantly advocacy. They will go into local schools, offer teacher training and general support with transitioning. The ultimate aim is to keep the young person in education.
“Generally schools are keen to be proactive but they lack confidence, they don’t know how to support their trans students,” says Sam. “We will look to support them. That might be in terms of helping the young person change name, the toilet facilities and if the school uniform is an issue.”
At their centre in Sidney Street, they hold workshops, training courses and in-house training for professionals such as teachers.
They support three age groups, the youngest being the Turtles who are aged between 11 and 15 although they do work with youngsters from the age of six.
Then there are the Femolition Squad, aged between 13 and 25, who consist of those who are transitioning to female, or identify as non-binary, or who are transitioning away from being a male. The final group are named Afternoon Tea and encompass all those identifying as trans and non-binary aged between 16 and 25.
They meet twice a month and have recently received funding to build a new headquarters, scheduled to open next year.
“It is really exciting, it will mean we have three times the space,” says Sam. “It will be a new chapter. At the end of the day, it is all about improving mental health. If it stops being an issue, and you feel accepted, you can move on with life.”