Just Like Us, the UK charity for LGBT+ young people, trains up ambassadors who speak in schools about embracing being themselves. So when the pandemic began, we had a huge challenge to make sure we continue to empower LGBT+ young people – and we’re still doing it all online. We spoke to some of our ambassadors about how lockdown has been for them and how Just Like Us has helped lift their spirits during these difficult times.
Lia Turrell, a gay woman from London, got involved with the charity just before lockdown began. “All the work I have done with Just Like Us has been during the pandemic,” she explains. “Just Like Us had given me so much more confidence not just with public speaking but also with embracing my identity. It’s great that we can still educate people online via social media.”
Our head of volunteering, Taz Rasul, has turned the ambassador programme into digital training and created ways to ensure our community continues to thrive. “From a new book club starting soon, to training with incredible people like life coach Char Bailey, trans youth worker Sabah Choudrey and non-binary model Jules Guaitamacchi, we’re still finding ways to make sure our ambassadors can find community online,” she explains. “Right now we’re inviting LGBT+ 18–25 year olds to sign up to become ambassadors so we can broaden our community across the UK – we have loads planned to stay connected virtually.”
Karl Eligado originally joined Just Like Us to become an ambassador and speak in schools about being LGBT+, making sure the next generation knows it’s OK to be themselves. “As a Filipina, lesbian and a person of colour and faith it is important for me to be visible to show young LGBT+ that an LGBT+ person with intersecting identities exist,” she explains. “I remembered how isolated and anxious I was as a teenager when I was working out my sexuality. I had no role models to look up to. I had no one to reassure that everything would be fine and that I was normal. This is why I have decided to be an ambassador.”
When lockdown began back in March, life of course changed rapidly but Karl found ways to stay connected with other ambassadors. “During the pandemic, they would always check-in on us and they are absolutely supportive about us prioritising our wellbeing,” she tells Gay Times. “My phone is always blowing up with notifications from our chat groups! There’s always an opportunity to get involved with and there are plenty of friends to talk to.”
As ambassador Ketan Mandalia points out, the need to make LGBT+ young people feel less alone never stops – even during a pandemic. “LGBT+ young people still need support and guidance, pandemic or otherwise, so I’m glad to see that Just Like Us hasn’t stopped their efforts. And I’ve loved the sense of community within the ambassadors. To be able to still have our voices heard, just now virtually, is a great thing. The mission of LGBT+ South Asian and ethnic minority representation and education never stops.”
Growing up, Ketan remembers thinking being gay was seen a ‘white people thing’. He wants to change that by being an ambassador.He also hopes to one day become a teacher and says Just Like Us’ mentoring programme has helped him pursue his career goals when many things seemed uncertain. “Just Like Us has also kept me busy with a ton of opportunities for good practice such as discussion panels and social media video guidance for LGBT+ young people. Their mentoring scheme has kept me able to stay on track with my career.”
Sign up to be a Just Like Us ambassador by Sunday 25 October: www.justlikeus.org/volunteer