An online gaming program is supporting young members of the LGBTQIA+ community to feel confident and proud of their identity.
The Rainbow Group is a branch of genU GAMER, a program using a love of gaming to build confidence and social skills. The program started out as a vehicle to help youth break free from isolation and to support mental health recovery, and has proven to be beneficial for people with Autism, Asperger’s and ADHD.
The Rainbow Group is the brainchild of Alister Shirley, who facilitates the group and supports clients. Alister identified a significant gap in the mental health services available to LGBTQIA+ Youth — in that there were no options that were truly focused on connecting to peers and building confidence and identity.
‘I came into mental health with the idea of wanting to help the LGBT community, because it’s one that helped me,’ Alister says, ‘I would be a very different person today if I didn’t have the supports that I have gotten’.
‘[Our] community, as much as any other community, deserves to be supported in a way that is beneficial and holistic to them.’
Alister (right) with fellow program facilitator Meg in front of the “Pride Wall” at genU GAMER.
genU GAMER was founded on the idea that gaming presents a unique opportunity for personal growth. The power to choose and create your own character in role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons gives clients the ability to “test” identities. This is something that Alister himself says was a significant cornerstone for his own personal journey; ‘the reason that I found out that I’m queer is because I played queer characters… it speaks to the power of Dungeons and Dragons and role playing and storytelling in general.’
In establishing the program there was a strong focus on the safety of participants — a priority throughout the genU GAMER program, but significant to the Rainbow Group in terms of confidentiality. This is because when it comes to some of the participants, Alister says ‘they may not have a safe space where they can be who they are.’ It’s a distinct advantage of the group being run online.
Popular tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons have proven effective in supporting identity growth and teamwork.
The results, Alister says, speak for themselves. Clients who have gone from being shy or who experienced significant social challenges have broken through those barriers to work in teams to win quests and fight monsters. ‘Seeing their trust in each other like that and to see them come up with ways to help each other… it’s really fun to see and hear them laugh and joke.’
As the program expands and continues to help youth come to terms with their identity, Alister looks forward to eventually being able to provide in-person Rainbow RPG groups in the key areas of Wyndham, Geelong and Melbourne.
‘At the end of the day the Rainbow Group is meant to be a space where you can truly feel supported and be yourself’.