Loneliness and isolation. Two things that many people who grow up feeling ‘different’ experience. That’s why LGBT History month is so important to me. It’s a chance for us to recognise who we are, celebrate our success and send a message to anyone who might be feeling alone that they are not. This is something I can relate to on more than one level. I’m gay and I grew up in care.
My mum couldn’t look after me, so from a young age I spent my life moving from place to place, home to home, family to family. Unfortunately, I never got to settle or feel like I belonged anywhere.
I didn’t get to go to the same school every day, to play on the street with my friends, to forge bonds with people. I was constantly set adrift never able to put down roots never knowing who I would be saying with next or where that would be. That meant that I could never be honest with people around me or, to an extent with myself, about the person I was. Being moved around a lot meant I had to be ready to fit in somewhere at a moments notice. I didn’t think being gay would have helped that process.
Who was I going to tell that I was gay anyway? I didn’t have a Mum or Dad, a cool aunt to confide in, a consistent group of friends or a teacher to offer me advice. Even if I did what good would it have done? I would have moved on again before long and the whole process would begin anew.
Many care experienced people talk about the prejudice and stigma that comes with being in care. From a young age, I knew that I wasn’t like other people. After finding out that I was fostered, or living in a children’s home, people would wonder out loud about what I had done to be put there. Every time “Parents night” at school was announced, I would wonder which member of staff from my children’s home would attend.
90% of people are taken into care because they experience neglect. 50% of people in care will experience mental ill health. The majority of us leave high school at 16 or younger, with very few qualifications.
That didn’t seem to stop people thinking that I must have contributed in some way to the fact I was in care and they weren’t shy to tell me that. So I was already carrying the judgment of being in care in my early life. I didn’t want to add the fact I was LGBT to that too.
The care system surrounded me with people whose job was to care for me and my wellbeing but in this one area I felt totally alone. For many years I dealt with that feeling you get in your stomach when there’s something you want someone to know, but the risks of how they’ll react are too high.
For a long time I was totally alone in dealing with this feeling of conflict inside of me. Wondering if I was normal. Hoping the feelings I had would go away. Worrying myself sick that someone would find out and I would have to move again because my foster carer wouldn’t want a gay kid in their house. No child should have those thoughts and no person should ever have to struggle with those questions alone.
That was a long time ago. I’m now 19 and I have the people and opportunities in my life that I had been searching for so long to find. I did finally tell some who worked in my children’s home and she made it her business to love me even more. I’m happy with the person I am. Being gay is a part of me, just as being in care is. I’m not going to be ashamed of my past, or of things I can’t change. My identity is complex but I feel like I know who I am because I know where I’ve come from. I want every young person to have the chance to understand and own their identity.
The LGBT community knows the importance of coming together and we know how damaging prejudice can be. We are at our best when we recognise and celebrate the diversity within our own community. We can be great at making people feel like they belong. So this LGBT History month, why not go to an event. Find our what’s happening near you. And take a minute to reach out to those within the LGBT community who can sometimes feel far away from belonging, even within our own movement.