‘Going to Pride made me confident to be myself’
Two young people explain why attending Pride with Scouts is important to them.
‘I came out at school when I was 13 and there was quite a negative outpouring from people,’ says 19-year-old Pippa, District Youth Commissioner for Enfield, Greater London. Her close friends were supportive, but many of her peers didn’t understand.
So when her friends invited her to join their local Explorer Unit, she wondered when she was going to have to come out to the group. But it transpired that her sexuality was a non-issue within the walls of the Scout hut. ‘It just never came up,’ says Pippa.
One afternoon on camp, months later, Pippa was chatting with her Explorer Leader and came out to her in the conversation. ‘She [my leader] was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” I was expecting the worst – something dramatic – but she just acknowledged it and was fine with it. It didn’t change anything about how she saw me.’
For young people, having a safe space to be themselves is vitally important to support personal development and emotional wellbeing. Scouting provides this space, outside the constraints of formal education and a managed distance from the expectations of family. We are an inclusive Movement, refusing to discriminate against young people or adults for any reason. We reinforce this commitment through our actions, like always challenging homophobic language.
Our visible appearance at Pride marches all over the country is a representation of our on-going commitment to inclusion and diversity. And for the young people in the parade, wearing the rainbow necker, it can be a life-defining experience.
Joey is an Assistant Scout Leader. His religious upbringing meant that he wasn’t able to participate in the LGBTQ+ community when he was younger. FLAGS - the National Scout Active Support Unit which supports LGBTQ+ adults all over the UK - gave Joey the opportunity to participate at Pride in London, something he’d otherwise not have had the chance to do.
‘It was an out-of-this-world experience!’ he says exuberantly. ‘It was amazing to be free to be myself. I needed to be told that it was OK to be me.’
'Young people are the future of our Movement,' says says Rob Sharatt, manager at FLAGS Scout Active Support Unit, when asked why it is important that young people have the chance to attend Pride in London. 'They get to take part one of the UK’s largest Pride events alongside their fellow Scouting adults, to join in the celebration, to raise awareness of LGBT+ issues and to help campaign for freedom and equality for all,’
Both Pippa and Joey were part of the vast 2015 Pride in London Scouting contingent, wearing bright purple iScout t-shirts and sporting rainbow face-paint. They marched through the streets of London holding banners and giving stickers to the cheering crowds.
'The London Pride Parade, travels through the iconic streets of our capital city, which are lined with hundreds of thousands of people,' Rob explains. 'It is an emotional experience to see the support on the streets, and a moment to be truly proud of our Movements’ commitment to inclusion, diversity and equality.'
Pippa's experience of the parade was great: 'we saw loads of young people in the crowd who saw that we were Scouts and had no idea that we participated. There was so much excitement! It was overwhelming, but in a nice way.’
‘Even if you grow up somewhere like London, like I did – in a big city where there are people from all different backgrounds – there still aren’t that many [openly] gay people around, especially women,’ Pippa continues. ‘It’s a really special thing to be part of, being surrounded by people who are like you and don’t care [about your sexuality].’
For Joey, following his experience at Pride, the LGBTQ+ community now plays a big role in his life. ‘I want to make other people aware of the changing world we live in. We have to change with that world,’ he says. ‘It’s good to show young people that it’s ok to be who they are: binary, non-binary, or anything under the LBGTQ+ umbrella.’
Pippa is now heavily involved in Scouting, including FLAGS, thanks in part to the positive actions of her Explorer Leaders while she was a teenager. They showed her that they were able to accept her as she was, and to create a feeling of unity within the group. ‘It’s nice to know that in Scouting, I’m out. But that’s not the sum of who I am – who I fancy just isn’t relevant.’
Further support is available for leaders supporting young people who identify as LGBTQ+.