Celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month
February is LGBTQ+ History Month, a great opportunity to celebrate Scouts’ LGBTQ+ community.
We spoke with two LGBTQ+ volunteers about their experiences, and what Scouts can do to support young people.
Jackson is a volunteer in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland and a transgender man. Davina is a volunteer in Essex, England and a transgender woman. As you’ll see, Scouts is a hugely important part of both of their lives.
Davina enjoyed Scouts in her teenage years in a ‘wonderful section’. In 2001, she came back to Scouts as a volunteer. ‘Scouts taught me a lot about life and social skills: life skills, physical skills, mental skills’. Davina’s now driven by the desire to give back to her community.
Jackson explains that he’s from a Scouts family, where Mum and Dad are both volunteers. Laughing, Jackson spells out how, because of his family connections, he was ‘born’ into Scouts. ‘It wasn’t really optional to try it. You had to go there. But once you were old enough, you could decide to stop.’ Jackson never did stop; he soon developed an ‘absolute passion’ for Scouts and became a Section Leader on his 18th birthday.
Enjoying making a difference
Both Davina and Jackson have taken on many important roles in Scouts. So, what do they enjoy most about volunteering?
Jackson discusses how much pleasure he gets when Scouts gives young people the chance to discover what they’re good at and ‘find their niche’. ‘It’s helping and seeing young people become who they didn’t think they could be,’ Jackson explains. ‘The amount of times I’ve had kids say to me “I didn’t think I could do that” and they did it. (…) They always seem so proud of themselves and you can see their whole sense of self developing and expanding. You can see it behind their eyes.’
Davina smiles, a gifted archery instructor, she enjoys helping young people achieve their potential. ‘It’s seeing them get the rewards and the badges they earn,’ she explains. ‘We teach the younger generation, because eventually they’ll become leaders and take over from us.’ Davina thrives on getting involved with projects like the Billericay, Wickford and Basildon Gang Show. Her passion for passing on skills for life to the next generation is clear.
An accepting community
How did Jackson and Davina find Scouts supported them when they came out?
Jackson explains that he was a Section Leader when he came out as transgender. ‘The first people I came out to (...) were friends I’d met through Scouts. I don’t feel like that’s coincidental. I felt that space, in general, is a safer space. I’ve found people are more accepting within Scouts.’
Davina was also volunteer when she came out, ‘it was superbly dealt with at the time,’ she explains. ‘The transitioning point was done correctly and was a good thing for me,’ says Davina. ‘It gave me a chance to get things done and get through my journey to become who I am today.’
For a mainstream space that’s not just, a queer exclusive space, (Scouts) is one of the most accepting spaces I've ever been in. It genuinely is. In my experience, everyone is allowed to be there. Everyone is supported (...) it’s all about respecting people.
Supporting our LGBTQ+ young people
Based on their experience, what tips would Davina and Jackson like to pass onto volunteers on supporting LGBTQ+ young people?
Davina emphasises the importance of giving a young person, who may be coming out, time and support to do things at a pace that suits them. ‘Don’t force it, let that person grow and be themselves, then adapt to those things.’
She goes on to explain, ‘When they confide in you. You need to do the right appropriate actions,’ these include a three-way conversation, with the young person, their parents and carers and the volunteer or Section Leader. Davina emphasises that supportive information for volunteers can be found at the county and regional level.
Jackson has equally useful advice, ‘asking about pronouns is such a simple, simple thing and it’s so huge.’ Jackson recommends getting everyone in a group to give their pronouns.
He also wants to stop people being afraid of asking questions. ‘If they use the wrong word or say the wrong thing,’ Jackson smiles, ‘if they’re not trying to be disrespectful, it’s OK. I’m not going to get upset about it.’
It means a lot having this History Month, to see how far LGBTQ+ has come. But we’ve still got a long way to go. There’s still a lot of issues in today’s society.
A meaningful month
LGBTQ+ History Month is a chance to show our Scouts values and our commitment to equality. It’s a time to proactively show that we welcome all young people, their families and carers, regardless of gender or orientation.
So, what do Jackson and Davina, as individuals, feel about LGBTQ+ History Month?
It’s clear, both volunteers feel strongly. Davina is pleased about the prominence the month gives the LGBTQ+ community, including in Scouts. ‘We have a voice; we don’t use it enough (...) It’s a powerful tool.’
Jackson reflects on the injustices that members of the community have faced in the world, in the past. ‘I think about how far we’ve come, not just as a Scout movement but as a whole world in general, so LGBTQ+ History Month is huge to me.’ ‘I’m getting my passport changed, I’m getting my gender recognition certificate, my name is legally Jackson. All those things were not possible that long ago. And it's the people before me that made it happen.’
Maybe the (LGBTQ+) young people in our movement don’t necessarily have the support at home, or at school or at work or wherever, but they can have it within Scouts.
So, how’s Scouts doing?
How far has Scouts come in supporting our LGBTQ+ members? Jackson is impressed with how accepting and welcoming Scouts has become. ‘Over the last 10-15 years, it’s grown to where Scouts are actively talking about how we are LGBTQ+ inclusive (...) We’re actively trying and listening to LGBTQ+ young people’s voices.’ As Scouts, we’re passionate about celebrating our diversity, we’re a constant presence at Pride events, many of which are organised and championed by Davina. She sees progress, ‘I think it’s doing well, in areas. (…) Scouting has evolved’ Davina explains.
We’ve put together a few activities that celebrate the diversity of families and individuals, to engage and support young people. Check them out on our activity finder.
Times like LGBTQ+ History Month are a perfect opportunity for us all to reflect on how we welcome and include everyone in Scouts. It only takes small actions, like being a friendly ear to someone who wants to talk, or asking what pronouns a young person would like us to use, to continue to ensure Scouts is a truly inclusive space.
With thanks to Jackson and Davina for their time.