A Note from Owen Charters

Young people deserve a safe space to explore and express their identity

By Owen Charters, President & CEO, BGC Canada

As we grow, we seek identity through the groups we belong to: our family, classroom, our school, our sports teams, our activities, our culture, our faith groups. And as we get even older, we seek to establish our uniqueness, who we might be in comparison to others, to better understand how we stand out as much as we fit in.

At each of these stages of growth, our identity is an important part of our development.

BGC Canada not only supports children and youth through these stages of identity development, but we have gone through our own identity evolution.

Having started out as Boys’ Clubs, we evolved to become Boys & Girls’ Clubs. Then we became simply BGC Clubs, an identity that dissolved the explicit nature of the original terms of boys and girls.

Why?

There are a number of reasons, all that align with acceptance and inclusivity. For one, we knew that for years, Clubs have struggled to retain teenagers, who feel too mature to attend something with the moniker of ‘boys and girls’.  Yet we also know that serving teens is one of the most crucial aspects of our work, so we need a way to ensure that teens feel welcomed in a space that they are proud to call their own.

We also serve young adults, who seek employment supports and social services that are vital to giving them the start they need in life. And we serve families, who access parenting expertise, and social supports to help them raise their children.

But we also know that not every child or youth identifies as a boy or a girl.

In fact, we know that exploring and understanding gender are a key part of identity development.

Some provincial governments in Canada have proposed or implemented policies and legislation which introduce restrictions on gender expression and identity for children and youth. This is very concerning. While there is no doubt that the involvement of caring, engaged parents and guardians in the identity development for children is important, we also know there are situations where this is not possible, or can be dangerous and threatening where support is not present at home.

BGC Clubs have always been safe places for children and youth. BGC Clubs welcome the safe, healthy exploration of identity, growth, and maturation. Our focus has always been on keeping kids safe.

Being a young person today is hard.  Youth are struggling in so many ways, and we are here to support them. All young people deserve a safe space to figure out who they are, to explore and express their identity.  This includes trans youth, who deserve a safe space to be their true authentic selves.

Ultimately, the guidance to make permanent, life changing decisions requires informed medical discussions with professionals.  That is not something Clubs are equipped to do, or engage in.  However, while youth explore the decisions that are vital to them, Clubs are places which are accepting and safe.  Clubs do not exist to encourage children and youth in any particular decision, but to help them access the right supports they need to make healthy decisions for themselves.

When there are few options, BGC Clubs have opened their doors as a safe haven, a place to have conversations, to escape the rigid structures that too often define the academic world, or the fear of acceptance in social and family circles.

It’s hard enough to grow up today in a complex world.  It requires knowledgeable, informed support.  Clubs will always be a safe place for all children and youth, a place to explore, a place to grow, and place to develop a unique, valuable identity.

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