The LGBTQ+ Role Models You Should Know About

Have you seen our collection of exclusive Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY T-shirts to celebrate Pride? Featuring original artworks from five young LGBTQ+ artists in the designer’s creative community, each T-shirt represents one of the five key LGBTQ+ rights in the UK: marriage, adoption, intimacy, service and gender recognition. 30% of profits from the sale of each T-shirt go directly to Diversity Role Models, a charity tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in UK schools. We spoke to some of the charity’s role models about each of the championed rights to find out how they attempt to make a change and why we should support them…

Bisi Alimi – Right to Marriage

How do you personally relate to the ‘Right to Marriage’?

For me the right to marry is a personal thing. I’ve come from a culture and country where marriage is seen as a status thing, as attaining a position worth respecting in life. I have always dreamt of being “responsible”, but with the realisation of my sexuality and the criminalisation that comes with it, it was heartbreaking for me to think I will never have the same right to cement what I share with another man the way my sisters have done with their husband. The little “princess” in me still longs for his Prince Charming and knowing it was a dream that may never come true was painful and hurtful. Being a rebel, I was determined to keep dreaming.

Why do you think it is important?

I think the importance of marriage is subjective. For everyone it is a means to make a commitment to the one we love, and for many it is an act of defiance in the name of love. Marriage for me is important because it gives up the opportunity to commit to something special and worthwhile irrespective of gender, sexuality or sexual orientation

 

What does the role entail? How do you translate your personal experience in the classroom?

The role involves sharing personal stories with young people, many of whom might not have heard such a story before. For me, as an immigrant black gay man living with HIV, it is very powerful for me for these young people to see all these sides to me, hear my story and feel really empowered and geared up. I have always left every session pumped up and wanting to do more. Every time I see the eyes of a black girl or black boy light up in shock, surprise and excitement to see someone like them (black) who is also gay, it just gives me so much joy.

What’s the most satisfying aspect to the job?

Just being with those kids and seeing them already shaping their future by just listening to you. Hearing less kids saying they will be hurtful towards LGBT people compared to how many said that at beginning of the session just gives me so much joy.

How have you seen attitudes change since being a role model in schools?

I have seen a lot change and am still seeing so many changes.

George Lusty – Right to Adopt

How do you personally relate to the ‘Right to Adopt’?

When I was growing up, it wasn’t possible for LGBT people to adopt. That made the process of embracing my sexuality and coming out so much harder as it simultaneously involved publicly acknowledging that I wasn’t going to become a parent and that was something that made me incredibly sad. The law changed in 2005, the same year that I met my amazing husband Martin, and it was just wonderful to know, as our relationship deepened, that we could become parents together.

Why do you think it is important?

Looking back, the right to adopt has changed our lives fundamentally. We are now the most incredibly proud and happy dads to two amazing boys – I’m so glad that they, and all kids in their generation growing up today, will be able to take this – and other – fundamental rights for granted. They won’t have to go through the anguish that I experienced growing up, but instead they’ll have the freedom to make the choices that are right for them as adults, and which allow them to be who they are.

 

What does the role entail? How do you translate your personal experience in the classroom?

As a primary school role model, I get the chance to tell kids about my family and that, whilst all of our families are different in lots of ways, they’re underpinned by exactly the same essential features, like love, fun, happiness, joy, support and kindness. The format of our classes is adapted to the age of the kids – we always manage to get some really good discussions going, and the kids reflect on how they treat each other, and to celebrate what makes them different.

What’s the most satisfying aspect to the job?

To see a sea of kids’ hands go up in the air before you’ve even said anything, and to be asked really intelligent and insightful questions by kids who are so keen to learn.

How have you seen attitudes change since being a role model in schools?

I’m happy to say that my experience of being a school role model has been universally brilliant and that we’ve been met wherever we go by groups of tolerant and kind young people. So I’ve not seen a particular change of attitude – rather, it’s always a slightly different experience at each school we visit, as kids ask you insightful questions based on their own experiences and what they’ve heard from friends and family. But the work that DRM (Diversity Role Models) does is so important to getting these conversations going with young people, and to help create the happiest and most supportive environment for anyone to be LGBT.

Ann Miller-McCaffrey – Right to Serve

How do you personally relate to the ‘Right to Serve’?

I joined the Navy in 1987 when men and women served in two separate services and it was illegal to be LGB in the Armed Forces. Since the lifting of the ban in January 2000, I have witnessed the culture of the Armed Forces shift from one of fear of the unknown to an inclusive and open-minded one that provides support and opportunity for all employees.

Why do you think it is important?

Morally it’s the right thing to do because everyone should have the right to choose what they want to do professionally. It’s human nature to want to feel that we belong somewhere and people should not be stopped from achieving this because of something they have no control over – in this case who they love! Also, it makes good business sense to have a diverse workforce and is important to engender a safe and supportive space that allows everyone to thrive.

How long have you been a volunteer role model?

I discovered Diversity Role Models on joining Twitter and found myself intrigued about their concept of creating an inclusive environment in schools. Not long afterwards I discovered that they would be in Liverpool to do some training of volunteer role models – so I jumped at the chance to get involved. My faith in the importance of role models and their powerful storytelling has led me to become a Trustee on the Board of this unique educational charity.

What does the role entail? How do you translate your personal experience in the classroom?

I reflect on my own career, which spans 3 decades, and highlight the impact of legacy attitudes and the positive social change that has occurred across all diversity strands within the Armed Forces. There are times when this proves challenging but I explain how role modelling strong and inclusive leadership ensures that both operational effectiveness and individuals needs can be balanced and maintained.

What’s the most satisfying aspect to the job?

No two days are the same and no two classrooms are the same, and I love meeting new people and learning about different cultures and beliefs. The pupils are so engaged and ask such mature and respectful questions – it restores my faith in both the education system and the future of society. I truly believe that every single person I meet has something to contribute to the world.

How have you seen attitudes change since being a role model in schools?

Generally speaking, I think that people are naturally inclusive and don’t intend malice because of our innate desire to belong. It’s only poor experiences that generate prejudice. However, to address learned behaviour and raise awareness and acceptance of differences, more could be done in schools to create a safe space for teachers, parents and governors can discuss their experiences, concerns, ideas and share good practice. Role modelling has been very cathartic for me personally – reflecting back, without finding Diversity Role Models I would never have envisaged myself in full Royal Naval uniform proposing to my now wife on a stage at Liverpool Pride, but thankfully I did!

Sophie Green – Right to Gender Recognition

How do you personally relate to the ‘Right to Gender Recognition’?

Five years ago I applied for gender recognition – currently a lengthy and complicated process.

The Gender recognition application process involved a lot of admin. I’d collated an excessive amount of documentation, all evidence for my application. I had to gather newspaper clippings about my work, and photos from holidays and with my family. I’d transitioned 5 years previously, so proving my existence to a panel of complete strangers felt pretty demeaning.

I was able to pursue gender recognition as I had the time and resources (it costs £140) to apply. Despite the work, the phone calls, the evidence, my first application was rejected as I didn’t send a utility bill with my name on from two years previous. This was difficult as all our utility bills were in my partners name – they don’t make it easy!

Why do you think it is important?

A gender recognition certificate enables you to acquire an updated birth certificate in your acquired gender, which in turn validates your identity in law.

It’s important to many people as a birth certificate can be required as identification throughout your life – for marriage, gaining a National Insurance Number, some employment, banking, a driving licence and passport application. I planned to marry (he knew!) so having all my documents in order was incredibly important to me.

As it stands the current processes are antiquated and need updating, self-declaration is needed and reform is on the way, creating a simpler system and more dignified and accessible service.

 

What does the role entail? How do you translate your personal experience in the classroom?

I’ve been in numerous DRM school sessions telling my story – a nerve-wracking and equally exhilarating experience. I talk about my younger self and how I was when I was at school in my younger teens – a quiet kid with little confidence or belief in myself. I talk about how, when I was older, I began to reach out to people for help, that being true to myself made me more confident, bringing wonderful friendships and experiences. That being true to yourself can be tough, but ultimately brings MANY rewards.

What’s the most satisfying aspect of role modelling?

Making a connection and sharing stories. I remember what I was like at a similar age, my insecurities and questions about my own identity. I was the quiet kid at the back. When I talk I’m always hopeful I’ll make a connection with someone who might be struggling and let them know that there are brighter, brilliant times ahead of them.

I also get to meet a brilliant, inspiring bunch of other role models. Personally I gained great confidence and belief in myself and what I was capable of achieving. This in turn allowed me to pursue other goals and adventures. I owe DRM a lot for that.

How have you seen attitudes change since being a role model in schools?

Though it’s far from perfect and there are lots of issues regarding bullying and social isolation for some really vulnerable kids, young people do give me great hope for the future. To see schools that have LGBT groups, that actively show support for each other in class and that invite organisations like DRM into the classrooms is incredible. I’d hope that the old attitudes are dying out, with kids feeling more encouraged to express their identities, creating the language that goes with them. I think we should all be listening.

Adam McCann – Right to Intimacy

How do you personally relate to the ‘Right to Intimacy’?

The right to intimacy means I can walk hand-in-hand with my husband without the fear of negative consequences. To me it is about equality and that my same-sex marriage is treated no differently than a heterosexual marriage. For me it means our relationship is not a secret that is only expressed at home. It’s about comfort and being comfortable not only as a gay man, but as a gay couple.

Why do you think it is important?

As human beings, touch is extremely important to our welfare. Whether it be a hug, kiss or holding hands, being able to show someone you care about them is so important. When this is removed or a same-sex couple fears being able to express their love, it can cause a negative feeling of isolation and loneliness.

 

What does the role entail? How do you translate your personal experience in the classroom?

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the personal experiences that have made me the person I am today. I translate my experiences into positive lessons about life and bullying. When I speak in the classroom I aim to raise awareness and be authentic. Being honest and open provides a unique opportunity for the children to learn from others’ experiences.

What’s the most satisfying aspect to the job?

The feeling you get. It’s a combination of nerves, excitement and seeing the impact you have on the lives of children and teachers.

How have you seen attitudes change since being a role model in schools?

I’ve seen attitudes shift over the course of just 1 session. Children can be hard to read and sometimes it isn’t until they stop looking at differences and start seeing similarities that they change their attitude.