Like most of us, James Campbell was scared out of his mind when he went to his first underage dance party.
For James, though, the event wasn't just about having some fun. It was a chance for James to meet other gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex young people. A chance to feel accepted and not be judged.
A feeling of empowerment
"When I first went to a Minus18 event in 2008, I was scared. I'd never seen so many young people like me in the same room together! But it was awesome," says James.
"Seeing everybody there, it just gives you this feeling of empowerment because you're just so excited by the fact that all these young people are coming together with the freedom to be themselves and know that no one will say anything."
The underage dance party James went to was organised by Melbourne's largest hangout for gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex youths, Minus18 (new window).
Every school holiday Minus18 puts together a massive party for underage teens of all sexual orientations.
Now 17, James says the group provided him with the support he needed to come out about his sexuality and not feel ashamed.
"Through Minus18 I came to realise that, in fact, being gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex or whatever you choose to identify as is actually completely normal," he says.
"I never get tired of the amazing feeling of seeing everyone celebrating at a Minus18 party and just being themselves. Some young people walk in shy and feeling unsure of who they are, but leave feeling confident and comfortable with new friends and a totally new outlook on their sexuality."
So what are Minus18's events like?
From same-sex formals to pirate v. ninja dances and beach parties, Minus18 has held events in some of Melbourne's coolest clubs.
No matter what the theme, the events are always extremely popular, with more than 250 young people turning up each time to hear tunes by some of Melbourne's best local DJs and musicians.
Each event is completely drug and alcohol free, but it does have all the soft drink you can handle.
According to James, the best Minus18 event he's ever been to the December 2009 White Party.
"It was on the 23rd, just before Christmas, so everyone was pumped to finish off the school year and just chill out," James said.
"We all wore white and we had the dance floor of course, plus a chillout room upstairs with an acoustic music sesh and an outdoor area with a sausage sizzle. Everyone had the best time. You meet all these people who you just start by chatting to and then all of a sudden you're talking like old mates. It's awesome!"
Minus18's events aren't just for gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex youths. Straight underage teens can attend all of the groups events too.
What other projects do Minus18 organise?
Minus18 isn't just about dance parties. The group is also dedicated to providing a network for gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex youths so they never feel alone or without support.
Micah Scott first joined Minus18 when he was 16.
"Before I heard about Minus18, I thought being gay was wrong and didn't talk about my feelings to anyone," he says.
"Then I heard about the parties and decided to go. I chickened out twice but on the third time I finally went and met so many fantastic young people. It was such a relief to see that I wasn't the only one. That I had a place to go where I could feel included."
Now a co-convenor, Micah helps organise some of the group's non-dance party activities.
Part of the Minus+ program, these fornightly events include sporting activities like bowling, yoga and swimming.
There's also regular social activities like tours of JOY 94.9, "speed friendship" evenings, movie nights and even a drag workshop for young people to spend a day in the shoes of those who are transgender.
"It's all about providing a safe space for young people, queer, bi, straight or just curious," Micah says.
"We want young people to realise that your sexuality doesn't define who you are and that there's no such thing as 'normal' and 'not normal' sexuality. It's all about being you and no one else."
So how can I get involved in Minus18 or Minus+?
Whether you're interested in going to one of the events or just looking for somewhere to chat, the first thing you need to do is pop on Minus18's website (new window).
If you are interested in attending an event, Micah says you the best thing you can do is bring along a group of your closest friends, gay or straight, and just have fun.
"It's the best thing in the world and you'll make so many friends. As long as you don't chicken out!"
Articles Written by Elisa
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