This Saturday, 26 LGBT+ Australian teenagers will be marching and dancing with Facebook’s float in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade.
All are members of a private, secret Facebook group – the name of which we won’t reveal here – which provides peer to peer support for 1,600 kids across NSW.
Dakota, one of the admins on the network, told SBS the group started out with much narrower ambitions.
“We didn’t really have any intent – we just wanted to have a space where people could talk openly about who they are,” the 16-year-old said.
The group started out as a private network of roughly 20 friends, but in just one and a half years it has grown to over a thousand through word-of-mouth.
Members use it as a safe space to make friends, discuss identity and hormone issues, and vent about day-to-day challenges.
One boy recently posted about his unsupportive parents and school – they were forcing him to wear a girl’s uniform despite him identifying as male.
“It caused a bit of an uproar on the page, it was absolutely supportive of him,” Dakota said, “he’s a guy, he’s a boy – I don’t really see him as anything else.”
Others have found the strength to come out to friends and family, knowing they have the group’s support.
“For these kids, who aren’t all out to family and friends, it’s a really fantastic thing for them to have this place of comfort,” Dakota said.
“It's a place for them to find other people who know exactly what they’re going through.”
Run by teenagers, for teenagers, members migrate to a different group once they hit 20.
“We wanted to keep it with teenagers, instead of having adults in there, so that’s why 19 is our cut-off date,” Dakota said.
The appearance on Facebook’s float will be the first time some members of the group have met each other – it came about after one of the members got in touch with Mia Garlick, Facebook’s head of policy, and told her about the group.
“We’re thrilled to be joined by Dakota and 25 young people from around Australia who use one of many LGBTQI+ Facebook groups to connect and share their experiences with new friends in a safe and inclusive space,” Garlick said.
The social media giant, along with Twitter and others, is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, one of the most talked about issues on their platforms.
Dakota says members of the group are very excited about marching in the parade, with even more members catching up to watch the broadcast together on the night.
“We’re hoping to get more offers to do big events like this – the representation and the positivity this has brought us has just brought so much excitement to the group,” Dakota said.
“I’ve met a lot of new people and that’s really great to have new friends.”
And Dakota has a message for the schools, parents and any other that are causing her friends grief:
“Just being gay, or just being trans, or being bi is a part of who they are, and they need to accept that.”