Heather's Story: LGBT History Month
LGBT+ History Month is time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, raise awareness and give a platform to people’s lived experiences. We spoke to Heather about her experience growing up as queer & how she shares her journey to help to educate young people & schools.
"The thing I love the most about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is the freedom to express who I truly am! Allowing myself to live unapologetically has opened so many doors for me. Diversity in all of its forms is so important and should be celebrated, whether that's sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, faith, abilities or other things."
Heather is a strong advocate for the education of LGBTQ+ topics & issues, to help young people find their identity & feel confident in themselves. For Heather, exploring her identity as a teenager held a lot of uncertainty; feeling like there was no one to talk to & not having enough awareness about being LGBTQ+ meant she felt she had to stay silent until she knew for certain how she identified. She now talks about her experiences to young people in secondary schools over the country, as part of her work as an ambassador for Just Like Us. Being able to show young people that they’re not alone in the things they are experiencing can be a huge help & comfort, & having someone to relate to can be eye opening if they are going through something similar.
The charity does a lot of important work with schools, one thing Heather thinks is incredibly important is creating a judgement-free space to ask any questions & have open discussions. They work to educate everyone at the school, including the teachers, to create a more welcoming & accepting environment.
Becoming confident in your identity is something that everyone deserves, but the journey to it can be challenging. Something that has helped Heather is seeing other people that she relates to be confident in themselves, whether that’s in real life, on social media or celebrities! Seeing people embrace themselves, especially when you can see parts of yourself in them, is empowering & it helped Heather to see how she can make herself shine.
“That’s part of why people deserve representation, especially if they haven’t been able to get it before.”
Sir Ian McKellen is a huge inspiration for Heather & someone that she has idolised from a young age. Knowing & loving the actor through his career, then finding out later on that he’s gay was incredible for her & made her admiration a thousand times stronger having something so big to relate to in him.
“You don’t see many queer older people who are thriving! Seeing someone with a successful career is inspiring.”
Heather believes that progression in society never really ends, there will always be people who push against what you stand for & there’s always something that you can do to make a positive impact. Simply being a friend & an ally can make a huge different to someone in who identifies as LGBTQ+. Accepting someone for who they are can impact them more than you might think - any positive action, no matter how small, is worth it.
We also need to keep the conversation going, always speaking about issues faced & keeping the topic relevant as it helps to educate people who aren’t predominant in the community or won’t be made aware in their daily lives & can help them to understand what they can do to contribute positively. On the same note, Heather is passionate that the way to confront negativity is with education, not belittlement. Educating someone gives them the chance to understand why what they did was wrong & how to improve in the future.
Something we can always learn more about is how to be a better ally, so we asked Heather how we can do just that...
“If everyone treats homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc. as the abuse, discrimination and bullying it actually is, & thinks of it as prejudice and hurtful words, because experiencing negative treatment when you’re LGBT+ can affect someone’s whole life & I don’t think people realise just how big of an impact they can have by saying hurtful or positive words.”
Heather came to UWL to study her Master’s in Theatre & Performance Practice & is loving every second of it. Choosing to study at a new university, in a new city is daunting, especially when you're going into a whole new group of people. She felt lucky to join a community where everyone is incredibly supportive & has actually found a big LGBTQ+ community within her course. From first stepping onto campus, Heather has felt welcome at UWL, in the community of students as well as the way the university & SU show open support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Speaking to Heather was an incredible experience, her charity work will enlighten many & improve people's lives. We can't wait to see what else she does in the future; in life & her career!