‘Leaders give LGBTQ+ young people the chance to celebrate their differences’
Lewis, 20, explains why it’s so important that leaders support LGBTQ+ young people to achieve their full potential.
Scout Leaders have the chance to positively shape the lives of the young people they work with – to develop their character, teach them skills, and give them the confidence to aim high. These positive influences can stretch far beyond the Scout hut.
Lewis Addlington-Lee’s life has undoubtedly been shaped by the support he received in Scouting as a youth member. He dealt with some challenging feelings as a teenager, coming out aged 14, at a time when he had very few openly gay role models.
‘I’ve been privileged in not really seeing any ostracism or exclusion [in my Scout Group] while growing up,’ Lewis says, despite there being fewer guidelines for adult volunteers at that time. ‘It’s only in recent years that we’ve talked openly about LGBTQ+ pride, but that the understanding and acceptance was already there,’ Lewis says. ‘It’s just part of being a Scout.’
Inclusion and diversity is one of the key strategic aims of The Scout Association. We strive to include all sorts of people in Scouting – both as leaders and young people. Scouting should represent and include the communities it is based in, and no one should face discrimination in the Scout hut.
As Lewis has become more involved in Scouting – as a member of the national A Million Hands Community Impact Group since 2014, and a member of the British Youth Council delegation, alongside his role as an Assistant Explorer Leader – he has seen positive changes in the Movement first hand. ‘I know that we’re getting better [at being inclusive] by the fact that we have grown for 11 consecutive years. Allowing girls to join was a leap forward.’
Lewis is also pleased to see the number of Scout Pride events increasing: ‘It’s a visual representation of how much Scouting has changed for the better’. The message is filtering through, and Leaders are reinforcing the rule that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have no place in the Scout Group.
But, Lewis says, sometimes there can still be a lack of understanding around LGBTQ+ issues. ‘People sometimes say that Scouts don’t need to attend Pride because there already is equality [within the Movement]. Even if this were true, we should still be at Pride, changing public perceptions.’ Lewis is keen that Scouting’s LGBTQ+ positivity is visible and loud. He is using his national voluntary positions to achieve this aim
As a delegate to the British Youth Council, last year Lewis wrote a motion which would add the outlawing of so-called conversion therapy to the list of beliefs and commitments upheld by the British Youth Council.
This practice – more common in the USA – reinforces the false belief that homosexuality and gender identity are a choice, and can cause enormous mental anguish for young people forced to go through it. This motion was part of a wider drive from the British Youth Council, to improve the mental health of young people.
‘Scouting hadn’t previously addressed things like banning conversion therapies,’ Lewis says. He drafted the motion with help from other members of the Scouting delegation and submitted it. He prepared a speech and then stood up in front of the whole British Youth Council, delivering his points. ‘I was prepared for pretty much everything,’ Lewis says proudly, ‘but in the end there was no opposition and my motion passed unanimously.’
‘It was incredible,’ Lewis says of the experience. ‘When nobody spoke against it, I really felt like I’d done something good. It was beyond a good feeling. I felt so much pride and love and excitement at the prospect [of the motion having an impact on young peoples’ lives].’
For Lewis, the experience typified how open and willing The Scout Association is to work towards a better future for young people. And, Lewis is playing his part in making this future a reality, thanks in part to the encouragement he received as a Scout.
‘Scouting, without a doubt, has been one of the best things in my life and I confidently say I’ll never leave it,’ Lewis says emphatically. ‘As a Movement, we have the power to make a real change, for society and for ourselves. Inclusivity is such an important goal.’
Further support is available for leaders to support young people who identify as LGBTQ+.