The Kite Trust started in 1993 as a social group for lesbian, gay and bisexual young people in Cambridge, UK, called The Kite Club. We’ve grown substantially over the years and now support over 350 young people a year across the region encompassing two cities (Cambridge and Peterborough) and a large rural area between and around those. Over the 10 years, we’ve also developed our understanding of the LGBTQ+ community locally and support all young people who want support around their sexuality or gender identity. As well as groups, our youth work team also provides individual support, a residential’s programme, and engages with local pride events. We know that many of the challenges LGBTQ+ young people face are due to external factors, so we’ve also developed programmes that work with parents, carers and families, and provide training to schools, health care, local government, employers and other services.
In what ways have young LGBTQI people in your community been affected by the COVID-19 emergency and the lockdowns?
Despite being in one geographical area, our community of young LGBTQI people have been affected by the COVID-19 emergency and the lockdowns in many different ways depending on their circumstances. For some it has impacted on their mental health and made support services around that even more difficult to access. For others, not being in school or work for a time meant they didn’t need to conform to dress codes, or experience negative reactions from peers, colleagues or customers. Some families and individuals have faced significant financial challenges. Those who were graduating from education during the pandemic have had uncertainty about their qualifications and had to navigate a transition to work or higher education with a lot of complications. The continuation and amplification of transphobia, racism, misogyny, ableism and other forms of discrimination alongside the pandemic have all impacted on young LGBTQI people.
Are there specific ways in which you have supported the community that you would like to highlight and/or share with other European organisations?
During the pandemic we were able to move all our services online and continued to offer individual support from youth workers through text, email, phone calls or video calls. We held social groups online each week by video call so that young people could still connect with their community. For some young people, particularly those who face barriers to travelling around due to a disability or poor public transport, these online groups have been more accessible and we’re going to keep running them going forwards. We also launched and recorded a podcast during 2020 with young LGBTQ+ people interviewing LGBTQ+ adult role models. It’s free to listen to at: https://anchor.fm/thekitetrust
What can governments, (national and international) authorities and institutions do more to support the communities you serve throughout this crisis?
Invest in health services. In our area, we are one of the worst in the UK for spending on mental health services per person. The waiting lists were long before the pandemic, individuals need these services due to events over the last year, and LGBTQI young people are disproportionately more likely to need mental health support due to the discrimination and stigma that they face. For trans young people, this access to health care is even harder. The voices and experiences of trans people need to be centred in designing services which are fit for purpose, but firstly we need government and health institutions to stand up against legal attacks trying to dismantle these services entirely.
There are reasons to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a part of our lives for 1-3 years. In what way do you think that prolonged lockdowns and/or other preventive measures will impact your work and LGBTQI+ youth in your country?
We’ve learnt a lot about how to be flexible over the last year and how to focus on building a community with young people in whatever ways we can. It’s been a catalyst for creativity at times, making us think outside the box and we’re really thankful to our funders who have supported us to reimagine projects and services. We need to find ways to rest and restore our energy as a community to keep up that creativity, but together we will find a way through it!