Growing up in an Asian Catholic household, it wasn’t easy for 15-year-old Naya* to come out.
“I had a lot of fears,” says Naya. “But I’m one of the lucky ones. When I did come out, my friends and family accepted me. There was a lot of teaching and learning on both sides, but I’m lucky I can live my truth at such a young age.”
Naya is queer and non-binary and goes by they/them pronouns. It took them a long time to get to the point where they felt like they and others were comfortable with their identity.
“It’s been a long journey,” Naya reflects. “It took a lot of questioning. The first step was acknowledging that something felt off. When you’ve grown up so sure of yourself, it’s hard to step back and say, ‘hold on, this doesn’t feel quite right’.”
At first, Naya thought the discomfort was only about their sexuality, but they realised it was more than that.
“It was about my gender as well,” they say.
“I had to sit with it for a while before getting to this point. I had to trust myself and what I was feeling. Now, I’m really happy to be who I am.
“Many people were telling me that my feelings weren’t real, or the internet was influencing me too much. It was hurtful to hear that from some of the closest people in my life. But I’m glad to be where I am today.
Naya was searching for a school that felt more accepting of them when a school counsellor recommended EDEN College. Naya says that the experience at EDEN has been positive and supportive.
“So far, they’ve helped me stay safe and explain who I am to other students, which is more than my other schools did. For that, I’m beyond thankful.”
School Manager Lisa Hobden says that EDEN’s reputation as inclusive and supportive is well known throughout the education community in South Western Sydney.
“Often LGBTQIA+ students in mainstream schools experience bullying through ignorance and a lack of understanding and tolerance for difference.
“There is little support and little opportunity for students to tell their story to encourage understanding and, as such, they can experience unkindness and disrespect.”
Challenges like these can create an atmosphere of exclusion and intolerance, which often results in LGBTQIA+ students isolating themselves and experiencing social anxiety.
Sometimes, they feel so overwhelmed that it disrupts their education.
EDEN College and all of Youth Off The Streets’ schools are inclusive and supportive of all young people.
“We use inclusive approaches like restorative practices in their education journey,” Lisa explains.
“We also use the Circle of Courage philosophy in which belonging is paramount. And we work towards our schools being a community of people who belong, achieve mastery, independence and generosity of spirit.”
An essential part of our schools’ ‘belonging’ approach is to take the time to listen and talk with young people and support them and their families.
“We don’t do things for them, but with them,” Lisa says. “We empower young people to make positive choices and be the best they can be.”
Naya says that the choice to come out is a process, and it takes learning every day.
“You can never come out just once,” they explain. “You keep learning things about yourself, and learn and teach about identities. It’s rewarding. But it can be overwhelming at the same time.”
Naya is a musician and hopes to share their art by entering the music industry as a non-binary person.
“I want to keep creating,” they explain. “I love to draw and sing and write. There are loads of queer, non-binary creators in the music industry, but I’d like to represent the younger ones in the community.”
As a society we have a long way to go to ensure LGBTQIA+ young people feel safe and supported, and Naya believes anyone can take a small step by normalising sharing your pronouns with others.
“The internet is especially becoming a good place to share your pronouns – even if you’re not transgender or non-binary, it normalises it for everyone when straight people include their pronouns in their bio too.”
Naya also says that open-mindedness is key to empowering LGBTQIA+ young people.
“People can help by being accepting and generally open-minded,” they explain. “Do your research as well, and be willing to learn.”
Lisa agrees that the best thing the community can do is embrace all young people.
“Approach everyone with an attitude of acceptance, respect and kindness because we do not know what is happening in their background,” she says.
Naya is proud of the journey they’ve taken and how much they’ve grown from it. They say a couple of years ago, they couldn’t have imagined being where they are now.
“I couldn’t have pictured myself using a name and using pronouns that feel right,” they reflect.
“I’m proud that I had the confidence to come out, despite what people in my life told me, and to be authentically myself.
“I’m proud of how far I’ve come; who knows how far I can go.”
*Name changed to protect the identity of the young person
To find out more about Wear It Purple Day, click here.