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How this Ontario woman hopes to provide a safe space for LGBTQ children at Alberta ranch

Three years after Laryssa Kozar of St. Thomas, Ont., came out to her mom, the 20-year-old has made it clear to anyone else who lays eyes on her that she's a proud member of the LGBTQ community.

Laryssa Kozar, 20, of St. Thomas, Ont., has summer job as a wrangler at youth ranch in Kananaskis

Laryssa Kozar, 20, came out three years ago and hopes by making herself more visible, she'll be able to help other young people who are navigating difficult decisions.

Three years after Laryssa Kozar of St. Thomas, Ont., came out to her mom, the 20-year-old has made it clear to anyone else who lays eyes on her that she's a proud member of the LGBTQ community.

After a four-hour trip to the salon last week, Kozar's hair is now a vibrant rainbow of colours — to both celebrate Pride month in June, and act as a signal to any LGBTQ children who may need support at the Alberta ranch where she's working this summer.

I wanted to give kids at this camp a safe place to come and feel accepted.

– Laryssa Kozar

"I definitely have gotten quite a few stares when going out into the city," said Kozar, who arrived in the province on Friday. "But everybody at camp has loved my hair so far."

Kozar, who's been riding since she was eight years old, has a job as a wrangler at the Tim Horton Children's Ranch in Kananaskis.

"I wanted to give kids at this camp a safe place to come and feel accepted," said Kozar, a student in the equine management program at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Coming out as a teen

Kozar came out when she was 17 and still living in Georgetown, Ont.

"It was very nerve wracking," she said. "I came up to my mom by getting a Pride flag off of Amazon."

Kozar said her mom, Donna Sanders, didn't miss a beat in accepting the news.

"When Laryssa came out to me, I was a little surprised, but I knew something was on her mind and was relieved that she finally confided in me," said Sanders.

"Since then, she has settled into who she is and seems to have found a whole new confidence. And I love the vibrancy of her new hair.

"Watching her tap into her compassionate side, wanting to create a comfortable environment for others, is amazing and humbling to witness as a mother. I am very proud of her as the confident young woman she is becoming."

Why adult allies for youth matter

Kristopher Wells is an associate professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, and Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority.

"Visibility matters to an often invisible community," Wells said. "This is especially important for 2SLGBTQ+ youth who need to know who the safe and trusted adults are in their community.

"These young people need adults who are allies, and can help create safer and more inclusive spaces. This is even more important in rural communities where 2SLGBTQ+ communities are often less visible and individuals are often more afraid to be their true selves."

Kozar is prepared to help anyone while she's at the ranch.

"I would talk to them about whether or not their families are accepting or if they feel comfortable coming out because it's all on their terms," she said.

"If they don't feel it's safe, then they definitely shouldn't. It's really on their terms and I would just help them through that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 20 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna. Contact Rebecca at rebecca.zandbergen@cbc.ca or follow @rebeccazandberg on Twitter.

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