Bradley Riches is demanding more LGBTQ+ visibility in schools.
The rising actor, who can be seen in the second season of Netflix’s Heartstopper, is calling for more “positive” representation in support of Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity.
In a video statement, Riches explains how, as a gay person with autism, he “found it hard to navigate” a world that is “fit for neurotypical people”.
“I think this was due to me not fully understanding myself, be it in my sexuality or me being an autistic person. I think this was also down to not seeing myself represented in a character. I never saw an openly gay, autistic character in anything I’ve seen, which made understanding myself even more difficult,” he says.
“I just thought I was strange and the bullies didn’t help either.”
Riches praises Just Like Us for their “important” work with LGBTQ+ youth, saying the charity would have been “so beneficial” for him when he was younger – as well as his peers: “It would have made them understand me better, and it would have made my time at school a little easier.”
Just Like Us is notable for its Ambassador Programme, which trains LGBTQ+ young people – aged 18-25 – across the UK to help stop anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and bring positive representation into classrooms.
Ambassadors also make LGBTQ+ friends, get access to LGBTQ+ career mentors, take part in media opportunities and gain access to skills workshops – including on leadership and wellbeing.
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“Just Like Us wants to bring more positive LGBTQ+ representation to as many schools as possible. They are currently looking for volunteers, so if you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community and you are ages 18 to 25, don’t hesitate to volunteer,” continued Riches.
“It is a life-changing programme, and you will not regret it. LGBTQ+ youth need this now more than ever, especially our trans sisters and brothers. So volunteer now!”
Laura Mackay, Chief Executive of Just Like Us, commended the star for using his platform to support the charity and their mission, as well as “all those involved with the hit series Heartstopper, which is bringing positive LGBT+ representation to young people everywhere.
“Similarly, our ambassadors do incredible work in bringing LGBT+ representation to schools, helping school pupils to know that being LGBT+ is something to be celebrated.
“I would encourage all LGBT+ 18 to 25-year-olds to sign up for our Ambassador Programme and take advantage of all of the opportunities on offer, while playing a part in stopping anti-LGBT+ bullying in schools.”
Riches plays James McEwan in the second season of Heartstopper, which premiered this month to universal critical acclaim. A third season is already in development.