LGBT+ History Month: it's action that counts

February 2024

Our LGBTQIA+ peer support worker, Adam, reflects on the value of LGBT+ History Month, their own recovery journey and the importance of active allyship all year round (with some great tips for allies)

This LGBT+ History Month, I’d like to honour the place of awareness in the grand scheme of things, and explore how we can move past it, to action. I’d like to talk about my experience of recovery, too, and how awareness and action have had significant parts to play in that.

Having been on multiple long waiting lists spanning the first four years of my adult life, once I got diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), I already had a good idea of what was going on in my brain. And it was bad. I knew what triggered me, I knew where my high levels of anxiety were coming from, and to some degree, I knew the kind of help that I needed.

I’d been bless-cursed with the double-edged sword of self-awareness. This meant that I responded extremely well to therapy and took full advantage of any help I was offered. But while I had to wait for that help, I was completely mired in the intimate knowledge of exactly what was happening to me, without the tools to do much about it. I was stuck and surrounded. I felt hopeless.

Awareness as the first step

Awareness was my springboard to recovery, though – I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere without it. It was the first step. But without the guidance of a good therapist to utilise my awareness, I would have stayed in that state of paralysing self-analysis indefinitely, and nothing would have improved.

In a big way, LGBT+ History Month is also about awareness. The three core aims are “claim our past, celebrate our present, create our future”. The past holds some huge tragedies, and massive wins. In the present, there is much to celebrate, but many of us in the UK don’t feel like celebrating – things just don’t feel balanced right now.

I am aware that some trans people are facing waiting lists of seven-plus years for a first appointment to get support from a gender identity clinic. I am aware that hate crimes based on sexuality have risen by 112 per cent in the past five years, with hate crimes against trans people having risen by 186 per cent in the same time frame. I’m also aware that in 2021, one in four of LGBTQIA+ young people reported a past suicide attempt in a national study on predictors of self-harm and suicide.

What seems clear to me this LGBT+ History Month is that, just like my self-awareness only got me so far in my recovery, in the case of fighting discrimination, awareness can only get us so far. It’s action that creates change.

Ally awareness - and action!

Many potential allies are still unaware of the experiences and struggles of LGBTQIA+ people, and the importance of practising allyship on an ongoing basis. I advocate open-mindedness, good-faith curiosity and friendship across difference for anyone who feels unaware or like they don’t know where to start. And in the case of allies who feel all too aware, who are finding it difficult to channel that awareness, I’d like to offer some examples of actions that would go a long way to helping LGBTQIA+ individuals feel safe, cared for and worthy in a time of increased insecurity and hostility.

* Ask (appropriate!) questions about people’s experiences. If there is someone out as non-binary that you encounter on a regular basis, ask them what gendered language they would like you to use or avoid. This means they get to communicate what makes them feel comfortable without bringing it up themselves – something that is, from experience, extremely nerve-wracking!

* Take some time to listen. Those who are fortunate to have close connections with others in the LGBTQIA+ community may have the opportunity to express themselves freely regarding the difficulties they face, but not everyone has those connections, so lending a curious and non-judgemental listening ear will help more than you might think.

* Attend pride events, and not just to watch (or to party!), but to take part! Join in the parade, make some noise, show your support in visible and recognisable ways. Offer your time to volunteer stewarding, or behind the scenes, for a pride event. These events are often the times when LGBTQIA+ people feel the greatest sense of belonging, safety and joy – and you can help make that happen!

Be driven by the desire to understand

My last piece of advice is to try to overcome the fear of getting things wrong. We live in a fast-paced, information-saturated, and often anxiety-tinted world, which can make our attempt to act inclusively feel like a series of avoidant and mitigating measures. There are so many things it is considerate to avoid saying and doing (and many acronyms to keep up with, as a service user pointed out to me).

But “creating the future” doesn’t only consist of destroying what destroys us and knowing which letters come in which order. It means building what builds us up, too. Finding compassion and a desire for understanding within yourself and acting from that place, rather than from a place of fear, is bound to build some good.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to celebrate West Sussex Mind’s creation of LGBTQIA+ support groups, its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group and the EDI co-production panel, which consists of people with lived experience of mental health from a diverse range of groups in the community – and the hard work of all the individuals who make these initiatives a reality. Remember: nothing changes if nothing changes!

Adam Adair is a peer support worker who runs our LGBTQIA+ peer support group in Southwick for people getting help with West Sussex Mind.