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OUR HOMETOWN: Rylee Smith is a peer support worker at Cariboo-Chilcotin Foundry

About three years ago, Rylee Smith found himself at a youth advisory meeting for a new youth centre in Williams Lake.
Rylee Smith is a peer support worker at Cariboo Chilcotin Foundry supporting youth in the community. (Ruth Lloyd photo)

About three years ago, Rylee Smith found himself at a youth advisory meeting for a new youth centre in Williams Lake.

At the meeting, his fiance Brittenay Wolf introduced him to George Warr, who was heading up the design and planning for the centre, and they instantly hit it off.

Smith felt like his input into the new building, its services and resources, would potentially help other youth, including other trans youth.

“One of the things that was really important to me as a trans person was to have gender-neutral washrooms,” he explained of the decision to have single user bathrooms anyone can use.

Giving all youth, especially trans and non-binary youth, simple things like this to help them feel safe and comfortable, was one of many ways Smith provided input into the new Cariboo Chilcotin Foundry, a project years in the making set for its grand opening on June 16.

The youth centre offers workshops and crafts, peer support, and physical and mental health services for all youth ages 12-24.

Attending the meeting and becoming involved in the development of the Foundry from the ground up has now led to a job as a peer support worker, which is directly in line with his current studies, as he pursues a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“He’s already integral to our clinical team,” said George Warr, who along with heading up the design and planning for the facility is also a clinical counsellor at the centre. Warr said Smith brings a tremendous amount of energy to their group.

Twenty-three year-old Smith was born and raised in Williams Lake, and was home-schooled while growing up on a farm outside of town.

At four years old, Smith said he told his mom: “My spirit is a boy.”

Then he struggled with gender dysphoria as a pre-teen and it took time to become more open about his identity.

“I’ve come out as trans so many times and in so many different contexts,” he said, explaining there are misconceptions around how coming out works, and what it really means, as it’s not like a person makes an announcement and then the world knows. It is more of a process, and he has gradually become more open about his identity.

His family has been supportive of this process for him and he reconnected in 2019 with his biological father, who has been supportive as well.

Smith’s paternal grandmother was raised in Inuit culture as a boy, and when she went to residential school she was forced to live as a girl.

His grandmother told him being trans was very normal in their family and he comes from a long line of gender-diverse shaman.

In Inuit culture trans or non binary people are referred to as the third gender.

“It’s something that’s existed forever,” explained Smith.

Connecting with this part of his family and history helped him become more comfortable with who he is.

He feels supported in his identity at the Foundry, and he said he is grateful for the consistently supportive work environment.

“We really strive to be inclusive,” he said about the Foundry.

He said he hopes he can provide some support and resources for other youth struggling with their gender or 2SLGBTQ+ issues.

“We should never put somebody in the place where they’re feeling like they don’t have anywhere to go when they’re facing these kinds of issues,” he said.

“People need to know it’s okay to be themselves,” said Smith. While he knows families may fear seeking to identify differently means the person is changing, this is not the case.

“This person you love and care about is still the same person,” he said.

While he and his family struggled in his younger years to get the information they needed, he is glad to see this is changing.

“Hopefully Foundry can provide that to future generations.”

On Friday, June 16, from noon to 3 p.m., the Foundry is inviting the public to enjoy some snacks, meet staff and check out the new youth centre.

READ MORE: OUR HOMETOWN: Working to support LGBTQ2S+ in Williams Lake

READ MORE: Youth-led Foundry Cariboo Chilcotin mural unveiled in Williams Lake

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Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

I moved back to my hometown of Williams Lake after living away and joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
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