Creator of the YouthProject in 1993: “It was a tough time to be gay or lesbian or bisexual in Nova Scotia and nearly impossible to be transgender,” says Donovan. “There were no role models, there was a lot of invisibility and there was a lot of fear, harassment and discrimination.”

Reprinted from TheCoast June 7, 2018, "Coast 25: Queer, now and then"

It was her time volunteering at Halifax’s GayLine that motivated Maura Donovan to start the LGBTQ youth group that would later become The YouthProject, Nova Scotia’s haven for queer and trans youth. One caller, a young gay man in grade 10, was desperate for a group. “I thought my gosh this kid is clearly brilliant and his parents adore him and are so supportive,” says Donovan. “If he’s struggling this badly, what is it like for the kids who have no family support, the kids who don’t do well in school?” That young man became a core member of The Youth Project, valedictorian of his class and is now in his 40s. He’s still in touch with Donovan. The Youth Project came to fruition during Donovan’s Dal social work field placement. It occurred to her that instead of doing 500 hours at some agency, she could use it to start something for queer youth. Though Donovan got the go-ahead from the School of Social Work, several potential partner organizations turned her down.

Then PlannedParenthood stepped up as a sponsor, offering support and administration. “It was great because we got to do it the way we wanted to, the youth and I,” says Donovan. The group started with a male and female group, because Donovan noticed young queer women wouldn’t return if they were outnumbered.

Longtime Youth Project executive director LeighannWichman attended that first women’s meeting. Wichman would be a constant throughout the Project’s history, until she passed in 2014. “We did so many things together for the first time,” says Donovan of the original group.

When the movie Philadelphia was released in 1993, Donovan took the youth to the film. Afterwards the group took over a nearby cafe. “We had an absolutely wonderful time,” says Donovan. “There were problems, there were challenges, but I mean spending all your time with young people who are happy to have in their lives what you have to offer is really a privilege.” The first workshop request came from a Grade 12 class at Halifax West High School, who faxed Donovan questions such as “What causes homosexuality?” and “Did you choose to be homosexual?”

When they asked Donovan—then 25 and “kind of old,” according to the students—if she could bring people more their age, Donovan extended the invitation to members of the youth group.

Soon the newly trained facilitators were accompanying Donovan to do presentations clear across the province. She remembers one rural community that they had to visit twice: Once to convince parents to let them present, and once to do the actual workshop. In 1998 The Youth Project got funding and was able to hire Wichman and another staff person. That year Donovan, who had been hired by the IWK and was planning a move, resigned.

The Youth Project gave Donovan the confidence to start Supportive Housing for Young Mothers, which took seven years to get off the ground. Donovan then worked for the Extra Support for Parents program until the IWK closed it down last year.

She currently lives in Dartmouth with her partner and 15-year-old. But she still keeps up with the goings on at The Youth Project.

“Seeing what they’re doing is the best part of my Facebook,” she says. “What it’s turned into is what we dreamed about.”

Honours & Awards:

Presented with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia Community Group Award. " 1

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