Who am I? - part 3
In this series of blogs I talk a bit more about my background and who I am. Part 3 looks at my journey working in the LGBTQ community.
MY JOURNEY WORKING IN THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY...
My journey working in the LGBTQ community began back in 2010. I was working for the education charity Concordia and had the opportunity to lead the team of international volunteers at Brighton Pride. So, you guess it I jumped at the chance.
This saw me coordinate the volunteer project which involved helping set up the pride festival in Preston Park and supporting managing the VIP tent on the day. This was back in the days when Brighton Pride was run as a charity and was free to attend.
As an LGBTQ person myself I really enjoyed having the opportunity to be involved in such a huge festival of colour celebrating LGBTQ lives.
Later, in the same year, with a love for writing I decided to apply for an internship with DIVA magazine. Very excited to be accepted I spent my internship working in the head office in London writing listings and mini articles for Europe's leading lesbian and bi magazine.
Then in 2011, I volunteered to join Survivor’s Network (a women’s sexual violence and abuse charity in Sussex) in Brighton’s pride parade. Having missed the parade the previous year, due to volunteering all day in the park I found this experience even more full of energy as the crowd cheered as our group raised awareness for sexual violence support.
It was after this experience that I decided I wanted to spend my free time volunteering for a local LGBTQ charity. And this is where my journey with Allsorts Youth Project began. In 2012 I started as a volunteer. My role was to help run the weekly drop-in youth groups for LGBTQ young people aged 16-25.
I enjoyed working in the LGBTQ community and was so happy to be offered a paid role as their female LGBT Youth Worker, with the added responsibility to lead their mental health work. And so, I went on to set up and run an LGBTQ mental health group within Allsorts called 'Open Minds'.
I remember the first evening it ran, it was so popular we couldn’t fit all the young people in the break out room we had set up to run it. I had mixed feelings about this, as it was great that so many people wanted to talk about mental health and help reduce the stigma, but it also was sad that so many LGBTQ young people were struggling with their own mental health.
This role saw me recruit and train a team of over 50 LGBTQ volunteers who supported me to set up and attend regular events in the community to raise awareness about mental health stigma. Events like these were happening across the UK, however our project was unique in that it focused on the specific needs of reducing mental health stigma in the LGBTQ community.
As part of this project, in 2013 I was proud to take a team of LGBTQ volunteers to the UK’s first ever Trans Pride in Brighton. Together we ran a MindOut stall and talked to the public about mental health stigma.
In the same year my team of volunteers set up and ran a Time to Change mental health 'village' event in Preston Park as part of the main event for Brighton Pride. This was so successful that we at MindOut decided to run the mental health 'village' again in 2014. There were so many events and one that stood out for me was our Black History Event headlining the black lesbian poet Jackie Kay.
A lot was changing around this time in LGBTQ rights in the UK. I was proud to be an active part of the LGBTQ community whilst the UK Marriage (same sex couples) Act was passed in 2013 and came into force in March 2014. It was also amazing to be a part of history working at the first ever Trans Pride Brighton.
It was also a very difficult time though as sadly Stonewall excluded trans people and only started campaigning for the rights of trans people in 2015. And back when I first started at MindOut there were no paid staff who were 'out' as trans. Also the Q (for Queer) in the LGBTQ acronym was rare until around 2013/14.
My passion for raising awareness for LGBTQ mental health stigma continued outside of work where I ran the Brighton Marathon raising over £1000 for MindOut. That was so hard, I remember not being to move the next day! It was my first and only marathon to date.
I then worked as an LGBTQ specialist counsellor for Brighton and Hove LGBT Switchboard in 2016 until their counselling service closed due to funding issues in 2017.
Having a specialist LGBTQ counselling service where clients can come and see an LGBTQ identified counsellor is something I am so passionate about and so Sussex Rainbow Counselling was born in 2016. And soon after launching I got the invited on to both the local LGBTQ radio and TV shows. Listen to me on 'Out in Brighton' Radio Reverb's LGBTQ radio show here and on the local TV on Latest LGBT+ news here.
I hope that my experience and training working with LGBTQ clients helps more people feel at ease to access counselling, and it is with this passion that I continue to grow my counselling practice and offer online training workshops for counsellors looking to increase their confidence in working with LGBTQ clients.
A lot of progress has happened in the past decade since I have been an active part of working in the LGBTQ community, however there is still such a long way to go. And until we are all respected and protected by laws the work must continue.
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Read part 1 of the who am I series on my journey as a counsellor here
Read part 2 of the who am I series on my journey as a trainer here