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CALM-ing out at London Pride

Check us out… we lit up Saturday’s London Pride parade with superstar CALM ambassadors Jack Rooke and Cecilia Knapp. We were there for the party obviously, but more importantly to reach more GBTQ+ men – who are four times more likely to take their own lives – and to raise awareness of the link between LGBTQ+ issues and suicide.

This Pride season we’ve been 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. Next up it’s CALM life-coach and campaigner Paul Tyrrell and Josh Bradlow from Stonewall.

Paul Tyrrell, Life Coach

Hi Paul! Happy Pride. What does Pride mean to you?

It’s a great opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate in a safe space. Although it’s important to remember how far we’ve come in terms of equality, it’s important to recognise there’s still some way to go.

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

Many gay men have told me how homophobia has made them feel ashamed of their sexuality, causing low self-worth, lack of self-confidence and often mental health issues.

Unfortunately, this is set to continue until homophobia in schools is addressed once and for all. It’s not surprising then that gay and bisexual men are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight men.

Gay and bisexual men are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight men.

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

Growing up in Cardiff in the 1970s and going to a large comprehensive school was tough. Being bookish, having an aversion to playing rugby and being attracted to other guys meant that at a young age I felt I didn’t fit into the model of what made a ‘real boy’:

This had a damaging effect on my self-esteem, made worse by not having anyone to talk to. Coming out enabled me to find people who accepted me and shared these experiences, some becoming lifelong friends.

I suffered with low self-esteem for many years and ended up in a career I no longer enjoyed, feeling I couldn’t leave because of my lack of self-confidence.

I suffered with low self-esteem for many years and ended up in a career I no longer enjoyed, feeling I couldn’t leave because of my lack of self-confidence. A friend persuaded me to hire a life coach which turned out to be life changing. It enabled me to work out what I wanted from life and how to break down the limiting beliefs that were stopping me getting it.

Two years later I’m now a life coach myself, working with gay men to help them build their self-confidence and get what they want from life. Sometimes my self-doubt resurfaces but now I recognise this for what it is and can put it into perspective. Without having had a life coach, I feel sure I’d still be stuck in my old job feeling miserable.

Credit: Hannah Goodwin

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

I welcome the significant resources made available through corporate sponsorship of Pride. Having said that, we’re smart; we know when businesses are paying us lip service for our cash. So, it’s really important that engagement with us is authentic and not purely driven by money. Authenticity to me, means that the sponsor’s corporate culture is truly inclusive in the way it hires and treats its LGBTQ+ employees. Also, that it develops products and services that genuinely meet our needs rather than seeing us as a kind of bolt-on cash cow.

Who are your queer icons?

In the context of mental health, Olly Alexander for one. He has campaigned tirelessly on a range of issues relating to gay and bisexual men, including anti-bullying initiatives. He is open about his own struggles with anxiety and depression from his teens onwards. In 2017, his brilliant BBC Three documentary examined the link between being gay and the onset of mental health issues. He’s a great role model for gay and bisexual boys.

Olly Alexander is a great role model for gay and bisexual boys.

For similar reasons, Stephen Fry. His 2006 documentary about his life with bipolar disorder ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive’ lifted the lid on this mental health issue and raised awareness of a condition that had been unhelpfully stereotyped for many years.

Finally, George Michael. Not just for the massive amount of money he gave to charity without making a big deal about it, but also for his honesty about his own mental health issues, including anxiety and addiction.

Give us your best Pride story…

In 1980, at my first Pride, I saw the police’s blatant homophobia towards gay men. They arrested a guy in drag who was wearing a hat with a miniature plastic meat cleaver. They claimed it was an offensive weapon, which was clearly nonsense. The great thing was that many people on the march decided to respond to this blatant discrimination. I saw for myself how many brave gay people were prepared to defend themselves against the police who were there to obstruct rather than enforce our right to march.

Flip forward to 2003. For the first time, gay uniformed police officers were allowed to join the Pride Parade led out by Commander Brian Paddick.

I was struck by the contrast with 1980. I never imagined I would see this great step forward in how the State was beginning to behave towards our community. Looking back it was a sign of better things to come.

How will you be celebrating Pride this year?

At my home town Brighton Pride with my husband and friends.

Find out more about life coaching for gay men at gaymenslifecoach.co.uk or email [email protected].

 

Josh Bradlow, Stonewall

What does Pride mean to you Josh?

Pride is a place where lesbian, gay, bi and trans people and allies can come together to celebrate what we’ve achieved and reflect on what needs to be done to create full equality for LGBT people. Attending my first Pride in 2016 was a huge step for me in embracing my identity as an LGBT person. It helped me recognise that so many other people have shared the same experiences as me, and made me feel part of something bigger than myself. Pride is a place where I can express myself to the fullest, and feel proud of who I am.

Pride is a place where I can express myself to the fullest, and feel proud of who I am.

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

My main focus at the moment is on education and young people’s mental health. Last year we published our School Report, which showed that while huge progress has been made, nearly half of LGBT pupils are bullied at school for being LGBT, and rates of poor mental health among LGBT people are incredibly high. To help address this, we’re working alongside schools, the NHS and local authorities to ensure that LGBT young people can grow up in inclusive learning environments and access vital support when they need it.

We’re also working to reform the Gender Recognition Act, the law that allows trans people to change their legal gender, to make it fit for purpose. We’ve seen a lot of anti-trans coverage in the press and online in recent months, much of which has been reminiscent of the media coverage that surrounded the introduction of Section 28, the law that prevented schools from talking about LGBT issues, back in the 80s. Many gay and bi men grew up in that climate of secrecy and stigma at school, and so we’re calling on them, alongside the rest of the community, to show their support and Come Out for Trans Equality.

Many gay and bi men grew up in that climate of secrecy and stigma at school, and so we’re calling on them, alongside the rest of the community, to show their support and Come Out for Trans Equality.

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

Pride offers a great opportunity for organisations to demonstrate their commitment to LGBT equality. Of course, attending Pride or celebrating Pride month shouldn’t be a stand-alone action – there is so much organisations can do to help support their LGBT employees and help further acceptance of LGBT people, whether that’s setting up an LGBT staff network, supporting local LGBT groups or speaking out in support for equality.

Through our Diversity Champions programme, we support over 760 organisations in the UK and overseas who are doing phenomenal work to create inclusive workplaces where every employee can be themselves at work. We also publish our Workplace Equality Index every January, which ranks the Top 100 most LGBT-inclusive employers in the UK.

What do you think mental health campaigns can learn from Pride?

Pride started as a protest for LGBT equality, and over the years we’ve seen the incredible impact that it’s had in making the LGBT community visible and ensuring our needs are heard. Parades and protests calling for change have not only helped drive forward equality and build understanding for LGBT people, but they have also helped create a stronger sense of community and belonging among LGBT people.

Speaking up about our identities and experiences has had a real impact on social attitudes and acceptance of LGBT people. I think that we’re now seeing something similar happening with mental health, particularly in the growing number of men who are coming forward to share their experiences of poor mental health and show their support for others with similar experiences.

The power of strength in numbers can’t be underestimated, and it would be great to see even more visibility to help tackle mental health stigma and ensure that anyone suffering with their mental health, including LGBT people, can access support that meets their specific needs.

Who are your queer icons?

As a fellow Jewish person who’s gay, Simon Amstell has always been a role model for me – just seeing someone in the public eye who I could identify with had a huge impact on me. Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are incredible advocates for trans equality. Janet has written a book called ‘Redefining Realness’ which I’d recommend as a great first book for anyone looking to learn more about trans identities.

As a fellow Jewish person who’s gay, Simon Amstell has always been a role model for me.

How will you be celebrating Pride this year?

This year I’ll be heading to Isle of Wight Pride to run our stall. I’m getting a hovercraft there and Conchita Wurst will be playing. To say that I’m excited would be an understatement.

Read CALM-ing out at Pride part one >

Worried about someone? Watch our film: 5 steps to help a mate.

If you or your friend are in need of immediate help, CALM’s helpline and webchat are open 5pm to midnight every day 0800 58 58 58.

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