Out in the Open was a 3-phases Training program for youth workers focused on improving the social inclusion and active participation of LGBT+ youth in society, by improving the competencies of youth workers in outdoor education. 

Read below, what the Estonian team of participants are sharing about their experience during the 1st phase of the program and it’s Training Course., which brought together 21 youth workers, youth leaders, educators, mentors, and NGO staff from 7 European countries.


About the project

A month ago I participated in a youth workers training program called „Out in the Open“ that focused on social inclusion and active participation of LGBT+ youth in society by improving the competencies of youth workers in outdoor education. And now, after the first phase, it is the proper time to reflect on the questions that I had before participating in the program. One of the main questions was – does the LGBT+ topic go together with outdoor education methods? Secondly, are the methods useable in youth work and what value do it add? And lastly, how does the LGBT+ topic reflect in the Estonian youth work-frame? But firstly, a little bit about the program.

Outdoor education in the project

During the program, there were different opportunities to discover and experiment with outdoor education methods. Firstly, the program started with a hike through the forest that was filled with different teamwork, trust, and experimental learning activities. During the other days of the program, the participants were introduced to many new tools of experimental learning and how to use them in different ways and situations.

One of the most exciting activity was „Jacob’s ladder“ where participants had to climb up the ladder (that reached up to the top of the trees) with the support of the team. This activity brought up and formed the most basic values that people have on personal and teamwork level, challenged participants to expand their comfort zone, and gave an opportunity to work in new situations.

During the reflection, it was brought out that this activity is a good example of communication and cooperation between people. For the success of the activity, participants needed good evaluation skills of the situation and acting based on that, being emphatic and supportive and also open communication about basic needs.

LGBT+ topic in the project

Meanwhile, there were many activities that created open space for learning more about how and with what methods to work with youngsters that belong or may belong to LGBT+ community. And also what is the situation in other countries and organizations.

One of the powerful tools for me was acknowledging concepts (the principles or ideas) in our society. Firstly we had to write down concepts that we learned from our parents, relatives, and society around us, for example, „pink color is for girls“, „boys will be boys“ etc. After acknowledging that I have these concepts in my head, I had to think do I truly believe in these, do they support me in my value-based life and am I ready to take ownership of my own concepts. This activity helped me on a personal and professional level to go over the things that I’ve learned in early life.

Youth work in Estonia

Now is the right time to ask the question of how can outdoors be an impactful tool for LGBT+ youth’s personal development. The participants of the program brought out many different aspects:

  • outdoor activities are helping to explore boundaries and focus on self-development;
  • challenging activities are supportive for gaining more self-confidence that helps to work with the fear of coming out;
  • creating safe space for communication, trusting and taking care of others and making friendships;
  • youth can face life being braver by going through challenging activities;
  • empowering LGBT+ youth about the possibility of inclusion, the strength of the community and for taking initiative

According to this feedback, it is possible to say that outdoor activities are useful for working with LGBT+ youth. As a matter of fact, this program’s methods are beneficial for working with all kinds of target groups, because the aspects that were brought out are necessary for everyone’s individual development regardless of the background.

How is LGBT+ topic covered in Estonia’s youth work?

Estonia has developed youth work field that has the law for regulation, possibilities for studying it in three different universities and many national organizations that support the general process. The law says that: youth work is guided by the principles of equal treatment, tolerance, and partnership;

  • youth work is done for youth and with youth involving them into decision making;
  • youth work is done for youth and with youth involving them into decision making;
  • youth work is about creating the conditions for acquiring knowledge and skills based on the needs and interests of young people.

This means that all the youngsters (irrespective of their religious and/or family background, social status, sexual orientation etc.) are involved in youth work. They have the right to be equally attended into decisionmaking process based on their needs and interests. So, in theory everything should be in order, but what about in practice?

LGBT union of Estonia surveyed the school’s environment safety and inclusion in the school year of 2017/2018. CEO of the union wrote an article about some of the results. This union has acted in the field of education for seven years and during that time no school or national educational institution has ever spoken for LGBT+ youth’s community. There could be many reasons why: topics underestimation, misunderstanding, incompetence how to react, fear. Youth centers are not directly educational institutions, but youth work is done in many schools and youth centers provide non-formal education. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that

LGBT+ topic is not covered publically in national educational institutions and it is unknown how it’s covered in youth centers, but there is a reason to believe that some youth centers are working with this topic in secret.

In conclusion, thanks to the “Out in the Open” program, I have more knowledge to approach the LGBT+ youth’s field and work on it – there seems to be a need for it in Estonia. I know the importance of supporting and empowering LGBT+ youth’s community and I feel more aware of the situation in Estonia and other countries of Europe.

Materials used in the article:
* Rannaääre, K. (2019) Tagasi kooli, tagasi kappi. http://opleht.ee/2019/09/tagasi-kooli-tagasi-kappi/ fbclid=IwAR22XUdDn0NlqVj0gV_1Vb6e1CF35TFFLt8HLiIzJ7-h9gx6Np5Wu3xcFFY, (23.10.2019)
*Noorsootöö seadus. https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/104072017039?leiaKehtiv, (23.10.2019)

Authors | Jaanika Orav / Liisi Trumm, October 2019.
Photography | Elina Primaka

The project was funded by the Erasmus+ programme, through the National Agency of Latvia, Jaunatnes starptautisko programmu aģentūra. We co-organized it together with Piedzivojuma Gars organization.