Improving lives for sexual minority youth

(Edmonton) There may be no other research centre quite like it in the world. The University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services is devoted to examining the struggle of sexual minority youth to find a place in mainstream society and applying that research to programming that helps improve their lives.

Housed in the Faculty of Education, the institute is described by director André Grace as a hub for scholarly work in sexual minority studies. It exemplifies the kind of interdisciplinary community service work for which the faculty and the university are known, representing "a unique and holistic Canadian model placing sexual-minority inclusive studies and services in a dynamic, interdependent relationship."

One of the institute's most innovative and successful programs is Camp fYrefly. The acronym stands for "fostering Youth resiliency, energy, fun, leadership, yeah!" Each year in July, it offers about 100 youth in two locations—Edmonton and either Regina or Saskatoon—a full slate of dance, drama, music, writing, visual art, sports activities and science experiments, as well as empowerment and reflection exercises.

At its heart, the camp's goal is to promote strength in community, helping sexual minority youth realize they are not alone and, especially, "not the problem," says Grace.

"Their issues are consequences of systems, structures and institutions that do not work for them. Our idea is to help youth see that they can work together and not only learn to cope but become agents of change themselves. The goal is to help youth learn how to make significant contributions to their own lives and to their schools, home environments and communities."

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