For the 25% of LGBTQ+ young people who are facing daily tension at home compared to the 15% of non-LGBTQ+ people, the topic of family can be a tricky one. Just Like Us’ research shows that LGBTQ+ young people are far less likely to be ‘very close’ to their family (27% compared to 50% of non-LGBTQ+ young people).
I knew from an early age that I was gay. I remember how isolating it felt to not have anyone in my family of origin or any of my friends openly identify as LGBTQ+.
At school, I often felt lonely and depressed. The last of my primary school and early secondary school years were tough, as I began to notice I was different. Being so isolated from the rest of the student population really affected my mental health and there were times when I had little hope that I would ever live a happy life in the future as a LGBTQ+ person.
Something changed when, during secondary school, two of my friends came out to me. This was the beginning of my exploration into the power of friendship and how my friends could become my chosen family.
For me, having a chosen family – a group of people who choose to love and support me irrespective of our genetic or marital ties – has been important to me ever since my two friends opened up about their LGBTQ+ identity.
Thanks to their support, I could take the first step in coming to terms more with my own sexuality which, in turn, set me on a path to improve my own mental health. Their openness helped me realise that there could be people in this world who would support and love me, regardless of how I chose to express my sexuality or gender.
Even though I did not initially come out to my two friends after they had told me about their own identities, I still felt empowered to know that I was not alone in experiencing the struggles of being LGBTQ+. The more they told me about their own journey of coming out, the more I understood that I was not alone in the struggles that I was facing. Instead, it was this shared struggle that helped unite us and bring us closer.
As we continued to go through school together, we all navigated our LGBTQ+ journeys a bit differently, from when we chose to come out more publicly to how we dealt with homophobia.
Nevertheless, we were all there for each other no matter what happened, and this unwavering support and love changed who I was as a person, giving me the confidence to live a more authentic life. Like any family, we did not always get along, but I knew that at the end of the day, they would be there for me.
When I left home for university on the other side of the world, I similarly found a chosen family of LGBTQ+ people who were there to celebrate all the highs with me but, more importantly, be there for all the lows of life too.
Whilst I remain closer to my family of origin than many of my LGBTQ+ friends, there is still something about my chosen family both in the UK and back home that could never be matched whether that was the common past struggles which we shared, or it was because of the ongoing challenges which we continue to face as LGBTQ+ people.
The ties I have with the members of my chosen family at home and in London are paramount, as these are the people who can make me smile no matter what challenge is thrown my way.
These are the people who are more selfless, more caring, and more forgiving than I could ever be, and, these are the people who I feel so lucky to call family.
Rich volunteers with Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity.