When we talk about LGBTQ+ history and following in the footsteps of those who came before us, we imagine activists holding the first Pride marches, trans women fighting back at Stonewall, and those who fought for our rights in landmark legal cases.
But alongside these trailblazers are the ordinary people who pave the way for us just by being their authentic selves.
Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, I didn’t know about LGBTQ+ history or see a lot of LGBTQ+ representation around me. The first time I realised that there were other people like me was such a relief. For so long, I felt alone. So, when I first realised, albeit through history books, movies and television shows, that other gay people existed, it felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
This did not mean that I suddenly became an out-and-proud LGBTQ+ person, but it did give me solace that there were people, both in the past and present, who felt like I did. This helped affirm my identity, even though I was still a long way from feeling comfortable with it.
When I started secondary school, I met another young person for the first time who was openly LGBTQ+. It was truly transformational. In an instant, it moved the idea of being openly gay from the screen to the real world.
What was so amazing about this student was that he was unashamedly himself; he spoke and acted how he wanted, even if it meant he was ostracised by other students. By being unapologetic in the way that he navigated the school terrain, he laid the foundations for others to do the same. One by one, other previously closeted LGBTQ+ pupils, including me, felt that they too could be themselves because of his bravery. He showed us that while coming out could be hard, it was possible to be openly gay and that life could be better because of it.
Similarly, at university, I was lucky enough to have other LGBTQ+ students around me who were fearlessly being themselves, paving the way for me without even knowing it. Unlike school, I didn’t even have to question whether I should be open about my sexuality because of the sheer number of LGBTQ+ people who were already being their authentic selves. Seeing these everyday role models built up my confidence, allowing me to experiment further with how I lived my life as an LGBTQ+ person, from the way that I dressed, to the people I made friends with.
Since graduating from university, I have continued to encounter new spaces where LGBTQ+ trailblazers have already forged a path. My first manager was gay, and it was him, along with other LGBTQ+ employees before him, who helped normalise being openly LGBTQ+ people in our office. These are the people who had fought many battles, from ensuring that we have equal parental leave as straight couples to creating a Pride network, all making it easier for me to be unapologetically myself at work.
Because of these LGBTQ+ people who have come before me, I too want to try and make it that little bit easier for those who are yet to come. One of the ways which I do this is by volunteering for Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity. As part of my role, I speak in schools and workplaces to help normalise being LGBTQ+.
I hope that by using my voice and telling my story, I can help make sure that LGBTQ+ people no longer have to rely only on role models who are famous and out-of-reach, but also on the many ordinary LGBTQ+ people, like me, who exist in the world around them. By doing this, I hope that I can do my little bit in helping them live their authentic lives too.
Rich is an ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity – sign up for their newsletter.