By Kadeem Joseph
Youth are calling for greater emphasis to be placed on the issues of gender, sexual identity and inclusivity for young people who do not identify with traditional gender norms.
The plea came from members of the National Youth Parliament Association of Antigua and Barbuda who engaged in a panel discussion on the matter, organised by Decides Antigua and Barbuda in collaboration with the body.
Chaneil Imhoff, who is also a mental health advocate, explained that feeling “othered” as a youth is a difficult experience.
“When you are judged and most times ostracised for something like your gender and sexual identity… something that you really have no control of, it could have a real serious impact on your mental health,” she cautioned.
She added that often, youth feel like they have no one to speak to on these issues which could lead to a harmful cycle, ending to the individual reaching their breaking point.
It is for this reason that Imhoff is not only advocating for the acceptance of people despite who they love, but she is also calling for legislative changes that will allow for mental health to become a focus in Antigua and Barbuda as part of general health services “to ensure that there is access for people who need the support” that they otherwise may not be receiving.
Meanwhile, panelist Samantha Simon is appealing for comprehensive sexual education to be taught in schools, including gender identity training for teachers so that they can handle sensitive matters such as gender identity and mediating between students on the controversial subject better.
She believes that a programme of this type should be formulated by trained professionals such that “the correct information is being disseminated and this information is readily available to children, no matter their age… from pre-k upwards”.
Simon added that educating these young people now would lead to a better society in the future.
Glenville Dixon, who also spoke on the matter, explained that the issues of gender, sexual identity and inclusivity comes down to people ability and willingness to understand each other.
“We need to figure out our understanding (of) people who are going through these identity and mental crises and then through that understanding we can actually help people and help ourselves at the same time,” he said.