EJ Weston admits Westshore Youth Pride started off as a bit of a joke.
As part of Weston’s social justice class at Royal Bay Secondary school, the teen had to come up with an action plan. Around the same time, Weston’s friend, who was a member of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), questioned what to do after graduation since there were no community GSA groups.
That’s when Weston jokingly said that should be the focus of the action plan – creating a space for the LGBTQ community on the West Shore. After Weston’s friend and teacher fell in love with the idea, Weston knew they couldn’t go back and Westshore Youth Pride was born.
“I didn’t think it would turn into anything,” Weston said.
Since then, the class project has transformed into a labour of love for Weston. For the past year, Weston has been working to help connect those in the LGBTQ community in the western communities to services.
Now, after recently receiving a grant from Island Health as part of its Community Wellness Grant Program, Westshore Youth Pride will be launching two new initiatives.
The first is a partnership with West Shore Parks and Recreation to offer a free drop-in service at the Centennial Centre for youth between the ages of 11 to 18.
Weston hopes it will be similar to the drop-in service at the Saanich Commonwealth Place that takes place on Fridays, in which people can bond with others in the LGBTQ community.
“It’s something that is always needed. You’re going to have queer kids no matter where you go. It’s been needed for years, especially here on the West Shore,” Weston said, adding they hope it will be up and running in July.
“It’s important not only to connect queer youth with each other, but to have that support for them … When we have groups talking about this stuff, it reduces the stigma behind it.”
Also in the works is a new website and app that combines a variety of resources into one location that Weston hopes to launch in September. The app will be split into five sectors: upper island, Sooke/Port Renfrew, the West Shore, Saanich/Peninsula and downtown Victoria, with the main goal of connecting youth with resources in their community.
Categories include mental health, physical health (including sexual health), LGBTQ2+, Indigenous, get active (such as fitness centres) and volunteer opportunities.
“We’re creating a hub to connect all of these things,” Weston said. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.