Growing up gay on the West Island, Jessica Malz says she never felt like she fit in anywhere. “I struggled a lot. I felt very alone and isolated and you know, it didn’t have to be that way.”
As an adult, Malz is determined to spare other teens from feeling the same way.

She is the coordinator of the LGBTQ Youth Centre in Beaconsfield, a safe place, she says, for youth between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one. Malz helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth through the process of figuring out who they are. It’s a welcoming environment for those questioning their sexuality or coming to terms with their orientation.

Before opening two years ago, there were very few resources available for teens exploring their sexual orientation on the West Island. It’s the only one of its kind in the area. The kids come to play games and watch movies, but mostly to talk and give one another support. “I’ve watched a lot of the youth come out of their shell completely. From the first time they came here, to after coming out of the closet, coming out to their friends and family and even to their school, they completely come out of their shell and become who they are. They’re not hiding and they develop self-esteem and courage and confidence. I’ve watched a lot of them grow and blossom. So it’s been a really amazing experience for me.”

18-year old Mathew Orlando is one of them. He came out in grade nine. He was bullied and beaten.

“Everyone says be yourself, be yourself, but at the end you’re like if I’m myself and I’m going to be tortured, why would I come out? But, now I see I’m such a better person. I’m out of the closet and now I’m having fun,” says Orlando.

Malz came out when she was twenty, but it was a long, difficult journey to get there. “I was so lost, and for me I turned to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism and went down a long dark road with that.”

She knew she was different from her friends, even as far back as elementary school. “Towards grades six and seven, everyone had boyfriends and I completely was not interested. I was always chasing the girls and they were running in the other direction. I didn’t know why I had these inappropriate feelings, or that I thought were inappropriate, towards my friends who were girls. I was confused and lost and could have used someone to talk to.”

Now she draws on her own experiences to counsel kids feeling the way she did. “I feel like everything that I went through was for a reason. I’ve been able to use my experience to help others and that makes me feel really good.”

The LGBTQ Youth Centre also organizes meetings for parents and family of LGBTQ kids.
The centre is located in the Beaconsfield United Church.
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