A Cruise to Connect with Socially Isolated Youth


Kanagawa Rainbow Center SHIP

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the thirteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter. 】

In September 2007, Yokohama Cruise Network, in collaboration with Kanagawa prefecture, established a community center for sexual minorities called Kanagawa Rainbow Center SHIP. SHIP mainly engages in educational activities for the prevention
of STDs (such as HIV/AIDS) and the provision of mental health support for sexual minorities.

Since its foundation, SHIP has gathered users from a wide range of age groups, but it is particularly known for targeting teenagers, the group most difficult to get the message across to. SHIP is concerned about the lack of mental health support for today's youth. For example, interviews with junior and senior high school students revealed the following case. A junior high school student struggling with sexuality issues had felt alienated by HIV/AIDS education that assumes heterosexuality as the norm and instead tried to make connections with others on the Internet. This eventually led to the student having unprotected sex and being infected with an STD. The lack of mental health support for young people puts their sexual health at risk. SHIP has been trying to reach out to the school life in various ways. First, as an institutional approach, SHIP established various means of approaching junior and senior high school students by collaborating with the Boards of Education in Yokohama City and Kanagawa Prefecture to help connect socially isolated youth with the community. It also assisted the Kanagawa Prefectural Board of Education in the creation of their Worksheets on Human Rights Education. Second, as a personal approach, SHIP has been distributing posters and fliers to schools to further understanding on sexual minorities and the diversity of love. SHIP members have also been visiting schools to give lectures.
In their staff meetings, some schools rejected SHIP's proposals to conduct teacher training workshops on sexual diversity, and other schools did not put up the posters and fliers that SHIP sent them. But there was also a happy surprise when students directly negotiated with the school principal over the issue of the posters and the school immediately agreed to put them up. Also, the number of teenage SHIP users increased by a fifth when high school students brought along their friends or friends of friends when they dropped by. In other words, it is the youth themselves who hold the key to reaching out to others in their group. Thus if we are to provide them with sexual/mental health support, it is vital for us to connect with networks of junior and senior high school students. SHIP has already launched several events led by senior high school students and is continuing to seek new ways of connecting with youth.
At the same time, however, junior and senior high school networks are very weak and small. They can easily be destroyed by romances, heartbreaks, and other trivial things, and leave young people alone. SHIP, therefore, is continuing its efforts to encourage those who feel socially isolated to casually come by for advice. We continue working with those with whom we have established a network in order to decrease the number of youth in need of support. Using the community as a mediator, we strive to encourage young people to affirm their own sexuality and improve their mental health, which will also help to promote awareness on STD prevention. This is the grand aim, as well as the challenge, of SHIP.