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CALM-ing out at Pride

We’re delighted to announce that for the first time ever CALM will have a presence at Pride 2018.

We’ll be flying the flag at York Pride on 9 June and London Pride on 7 July. We’re going for the party obviously! But more importantly to reach more GBTQ+ men – who are four times more likely to take their own lives – and raise awareness of the link between LGBTQ+ issues and suicide.

Ahead of the Pride season and over the coming weeks we’ll be catching up with some brilliant LGBTQ+ and mental health campaigners to find out what Pride means to them – exploring the complex relationship between sexuality, identity, suicidality and mental health. First up it’s CALM darling Jonny Benjamin and pianist and entrepreneur, Sergio Lopez Figueroa.

Jonny Benjamin, Writer and campaigner

 

Jonny, What does Pride mean to you?
For me it’s a chance to come together as a community and celebrate. In the current world, there are so few opportunities to do this. Instead there is a lot of division and conflict. It’s important to join together for more positive reasons.

How have your ideas and experiences around your sexuality affected your mental health?
I struggled to come to terms with my sexuality until I was in my early 20s, mostly due to the conflict it caused with my Jewish faith, and this naturally had a major impact on my mental health. I was ashamed, embarrassed and extremely guilty about being gay. When I finally came out to family and friends I felt a massive weight off my shoulders, although it took several years to totally accept my sexuality and achieve peace of mind toward it.

I struggled to come to terms with my sexuality until I was in my early 20s, mostly due to the conflict it caused with my Jewish faith, and this naturally had a major impact on my mental health. I was ashamed, embarrassed and extremely guilty about being gay.

Which issues facing the LGBTQ+ community are you focused on?
The issues of addiction, mental health and suicide within the LGBTQ+ community have been a serious problem for many years and I’d like to do much more to address this. The community came together in such a strong showing of solidarity after the tragic shootings in Orlando. We need to do the same to address these issues, and urgently.

How can brands and organisations engage with the Pride movement in a way that’s meaningful?

I’d love to see more focus on encouraging individuals to look out for themselves and each other. And letting people know it’s ok to feel shit! Pride often involves a lot of drinking, partying and pressure to have fun. Whilst I’m sure most people do have fun, it’s important to remember that not everyone might, and to remind them they are not party poopers but simply human.

What do you think mental health campaigns can learn from Pride?
It would be wonderful to see a celebration within the mental health community, just as in the LGBTQ+ community. Mental health campaigns are often understandably hard hitting and powerful but we could also do more to celebrate our beautiful minds perhaps…

Who are your queer icons?
Dusty Springfield, Sir Ian McKellen, and Madonna. Dusty courageously came out as bisexual in an interview in the Evening Standard in 1970. She was so ahead of her time, and immensely talented but underrated as a singer and performer.

I met Sir Ian a couple of years ago at an event for Stonewall. We appeared on a panel together. I’ve never been so starstruck in my life! He has this incredible presence about him. And yet he is very kind, humble and down to earth. He has been a huge champion of LGBTQ+ rights and we are so lucky to have him as an ambassador.

Madonna has and will always be my ultimate queer icon. Her music, as well as her activism, helped me to address and eventually come to terms with my sexuality.

Madonna has and will always be my ultimate queer icon. Her music, as well as her activism, helped me to address and eventually come to terms with my sexuality.

Give us your best Pride story…
They’re too graphic, even for CALM! My most memorable (and moving) Pride happened when I was working in Mumbai, India two years ago. Homosexuality is still criminalised there and yet there are very discreet LGBTQ+ groups who come together to celebrate Pride each year. It made me truly appreciate how lucky we are in the UK. Although of course it’s far from perfect, at least we can celebrate Pride openly in our streets, unlike the brave communities in India.

Jonny’s new book A Stranger On The Bridge: My Journey From Despair To Hope – is a powerful and inspirational real life story of his search for the stranger that stopped him taking his life.

 

Sergio Lopez Figueroa, Pianist, composer and social entrepreneur

 

Sergio, what does Pride mean to you?

As someone who has recently come out as a bi person I see it as a celebration of togetherness and diversity, a day to remember that homophobia, discrimination and prejudice still exists in the UK and around the world. At another level it’s also a personal statement of acceptance and pride in showing up. But I haven’t been militant about my sexuality so I don’t wear a political activist hat. Pride to me is a great party!

How have your ideas and experiences around your sexuality affected your mental health?

I told my ex-partner I was bi at the time we were dating. As every bisexual person knows this is a tricky issue. I never labeled my self as bi-curious. There are too many labels to handle already! I experienced issues as I was discovering who I am but not to the point of affecting my mental health. Other issues such as debt, and homelessness have had a bigger impact on my mental health, especially as a renter in London living in horrible conditions. One big issue for me has been the lack of self-love leading to self-censorship in the process of discovering my sexuality. I’ve also dealt with various degrees of biphobia coming from straight and gay people. I’m concerned to hear the same comments about being in a phase and so on, asking if I’m confused, denying or pretending etc.. Bisexuality is fluid and it takes many forms but it’s easy to see the world in black and white. I’ve met lots of bisexual people who live in anxiety about being open, especially those married or at the early stages when they feel under pressure to accept their sexuality.

I’ve met lots of bisexual people who live in anxiety about being open, especially those married or at the early stages when they feel under pressure to accept their sexuality.

Which issues facing the LGBTQ+ community are you focused on at the minute?

Personally I’m concerned about how dating apps are conditioning human relationships – including sexual interaction and behaviours – in ways that could easily become addictive. We’re invited to treat people like disposable assets with a short expiry date. Part of our identity is being open-minded and inclusive as a community but in my opinion we’re becoming close-minded and judgmental with too much focus on our external aspects and the physical. There’s a need to do more internal work on rediscovering the value of commitment, fulfilling relationships, love and more. I believe there is a sense of isolation and frustration in not being able to be to accept that in the end all we need is love!

I’m currently setting up #BeingBi – for face-to-face, free meet ups in London and Glasgow for bisexual men of all ages who may or may not be out, to openly discuss any issues. Anyone can bring a topic to the table. If you want to join in you can visit the Being Bi Facebook group.

Sergio Lopez Figueroa is a pianist, composer and social entrepreneur. He is the creator of Humming in Harmony mindfulness, and is campaigning on housing living standards for better mental health in the private rented sector by setting up the first London Renters Choirs, Section 21. Check out their free event in central London on Wednesday 13 June.

Interested? [email protected]

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