IF YOU are questioning your sexuality while growing up in Gympie life isn't always going to be easy, according to youth advocate Matthew Wilshere.
The 24-year-old says a lot of young people can struggle with the many issues associated with being gay, and he has set up a new youth group, LGBTQ, in Gympie.
LGBTQ, a world-wide organisation, stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender and Questioning.
The Gympie group, for people aged 16-24, is just new but its Facebook page already has more than 120 likes in just four days.
Mr Wilshere, who is openly gay, says Gympie is a great place but in some ways is behind the times.
"There is an element of homophobia in town," Mr Wilshere said.
He cited the gay slur drawn on a Mary St cafe window earlier this year and his own experiences growing up in the Gold City.
"I have been bullied at school and night clubs etc," he says.
"If you are open like me, you get a lot of derogatory comments."
Mr Wilshere said he was lucky he had a thick skin and could handle the negative remarks, but some people weren't so strong.
"Homophobic comments contribute to mental health problems in the gay community," he said.
"It's Mental Health Week and it's important people realise the effect it has."
He said the gay community had a high suicide rate and friends needed to support each other regardless of sexuality.
That is how the new youth group fits in.
LGBTQ Gympie's main focus is to provide a safe environment for Gympie's gay youth to meet.
"They can talk about their feelings, the joys and challenges of being gay," Mr Wilshere said.
The best thing is there is no pressure to come out; people can just be themselves.
"Some people could come away feeling they are straight and that's great too," Mr Wilshere said.
He was hoping the group could also offer counselling and health information and was looking for volunteer youth and health workers to be part of the team.
One of the aims is to facilitate better access to health services and support while building self-worth, a sense of community and resilience, he said.
Anyone willing to help out or who is interested in joining the group could head to the LGBTQ Gympie Facebook page for more information.
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