Big interview: Sexuality barriers must fall

Emily Rogers
Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Jamie Rennie, chief executive, LGBT Youth Scotland.

Jamie Rennie has to restrain himself from tearing up copies of Young People Now when they arrive at his Edinburgh office, to stop people reading the job ads.

"We've put a lot of effort into training and ended up with some really brilliant people," he says. "But youth workers are being stolen from the voluntary sector by every other sector offering much more attractive wages.

"The conditions staff are working under are poorer in the voluntary sector, but we just can't compete with such packages," he says. "We want to tear out the back pages of Young People Now for fear that people want to move on."

Rennie doesn't feel he can afford to lose any of LGBT Youth Scotland's 26 staff members, who are helping him further work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people. Many have also helped the organisation make the transition two years ago from a small Edinburgh group that was formed in 1989 into a national charity.

The organisation now involves 3,000 people, 300 of whom are young people actively engaged in running it, and leads Scotland's provision for LGBT young people, running groups in nine areas. A new office in Glasgow is due to open this month and the group plans to expand into the Highlands and islands next year.

But with support for gay people of all ages still only available in just over a third of Scotland's 32 local authority areas, there is much work to do to fulfil Rennie's dream of pan-Scotland support.

"Having an LGBT youth group in one area can have massive beneficial side effects," he says. "Local authorities become more inclusive across the board and the knowledge and confidence of staff on such issues deepens hugely. It can make all these barriers come down. We talk about young people 'coming out' being a key gateway, but having a support group can be like a 'coming out' of LGBT issues in a local area."

Since LGBT Youth Scotland became a national organisation, the Scottish government has changed the way it views LGBT issues, says Rennie, but lack of awareness in some areas can still present obstacles. For example, Glasgow is the only local authority that provides its own services for gay young people.

The organisation is spreading awareness by training local authority staff. It is also testing out ways of working with local authorities in four areas, which it hopes to replicate across the country.

Rennie believes making equality work core to youth work hinges on co-operation between organisations.

"Young people need to see things happen quite quickly," he says. "But there needs to be a proper partnership between the statutory and voluntary sectors, young people to deliver work and senior executives signed up to action. We don't want to set up groups in areas that aren't sustainable. They need to be part of the youth strategy for the area."

Rennie also sees much potential for raising awareness in the Voluntary Organisations Chief Officers Group - the national network he has chaired since December.

The organisation represents the interests of 50 voluntary groups working with young people - a role that Rennie feels has increased in importance since YouthLink Scotland expanded its remit to the statutory sector.

He says: "If we can articulate the things that are important and offer solutions, we will be in a position to sit around the table with the Government to spell out ideas about how things need to change."


- Jamie Rennie, 34, joined LGBT Youth Scotland eight years ago after becoming involved in Stonewall Youth - the organisation's predecessor - while training to be a maths and physics teacher

- The organisation offers a range of support services to decrease the isolation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people, as well as to spread awareness among professionals working with them

- There are thought to be 50,000 to 100,000 LGBT 13- to 25-year-olds in Scotland, which equates to between five and 10 per cent of that age group

- Rennie is also chairman of Scotland's Voluntary Organisations Chief Officers Group, which represents 50 voluntary organisations that have a youth remit and acts as a consultative body for the Scottish Executive.

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