Pride background

Supporting LGBTQ+ youth across Southend

Maise Riley

Figuring It Out Co-Founder and ex-Southend Youth Mayor

My name is Maise, and I am 17 years old. I've been out since the age of 14 basically as soon as i realised- though I was aware I wasn't 'straight' when I was 11 but just forgot about it. I went to my first pride still in the closet and it was the best day of my life and was the first time I truly felt comfortable being a lesbian. Unfortunately, I ended up being outed to my entire year group which gave me intense anxiety, but luckily anyone that had a problem with it kept their opinion to themselves. I told my mum via text, and we didn't end up properly acknowledging what I'd told her until I got into a relationship with a girl. My struggle with my sexuality inspired me to start an LGBTQ+ club at my school, get involved with and become a founding member of Figuring it out, serving as Southend Youth Mayor for two terms and being labelled as one of the top 10 most empowering women in Southend. I used to think that "it gets better" was rubbish, but I've reached a point and in hindsight, it really does get better.

Laurie Burton

Southend Councillor and Teacher

Growing up day 20 years ago seems like another era. In 1998 I was 14 and probably first realising I didn’t like girls. I was still buying FHM, looking at pictures of Teri Hatcher and trying to get aroused; but it just wasn’t happening. It’s hard to believe now but at the time I didn’t know what ‘gay’ was. I didn’t know any gay people. Nobody had the internet. Teachers weren’t allowed to mention it at school. And Queer as Folk hadn’t yet started on Channel 4. So basically I knew I wasn’t straight a good two years before realising I was gay.

I went from a secondary school in a little village in Sussex to a sixth form college in Brighton. It was a school hierarchy in reverse. Suddenly it was cool to be intelligent. Cool to talk about philosophy in the car park. Cool to be into Nirvana. Cool to be subversive. Cool to be gay. I’m pleased to say coming out to my friends wasn’t an issue. I never got particularly bullied but any names I did get called stopped when I came out. Presumably people thought if I wasn’t ashamed then there was no point in calling me a faggot. Growing up in a small village my family found out soon enough and thankfully were very supportive. I’m sure they’d always known but still manage to feign surprise when I confirmed it to them.

As a teacher I know many LGBT young people and in some ways it is easier coming out today as LGBT has moved firmly to the mainstream. However with such a plethora of LGBT influences there can be the pressure to identify as a gay paradigm. So my message to young people is not just come out. Come out and be gay. But be the gay you want to be.

Gina Denham

Essex Police Sergeant and Trans Activist

Coming out is an act of faith. Having courage. Following your heart not knowing the outcome, the risks or rewards. In my case I decided to take that leap, and have courage, because living in-authentically was not actual living. The outcome? I saw the best in the majority of folk, following my heart rewarded me. Now I see the world in colour. No longer black and white. I feel I am a better person for doing so.

Felix Johnson

Figuring it Out Co-Founder

When I realised in year 7 that I liked boys, I was kinda excited to share it with the world. Fortunately, with few exceptions, my school community was accepting and pastoral support dealt with the naysayers. I was more afraid of my parents, who I came out to tearfully in year 8, but these days they remain some of my biggest supporters - even buying the cakes for my school's LGBT+ group that I run. 6 years on, I've helped found Figuring It Out and I am a tireless LGBT+ activist. Coming out never stops, really, but it does get much easier.

Rj Learmouth

Local musician and young person's counselor

My coming out story is also my Mum’s coming out story.
I was 16 at the time and one evening my Mum messaged me to see if I was at home as she wanted to speak to me about quite something important, which normally meant I’d done something wrong. So she comes in from work, we exchange our experiences of the day and she turns and says ‘Do you remember my friend from the other day?... Well, her and I are in a relationship.’
This was clearly a sign that now was the right time. ‘Mum, do you remember my friend who was over the other weekend?.... Well we are together’ There was a silence but a positive one. We smiled at each other, had a cuddle and then a vodka lemonade. I couldn’t have asked for it to be any easier.

Sam Adams

Co-Chair of Southend Pride and LGBT Officer for Southend West Labour Party and Unison

My name is Sam Adams and I am a 53 year old lesbian. I have been out and proud since I was 14. Coming from a very liberal thinking family, my coming out was uneventful and non-dramatic, unlike many of my friends at that time, some of whom were disowned by their family, or even beaten. However, the town I grew up in was far from progressive and aged 19, I moved into the Big City. The London gay scene was where I really grew up! Politics was, and is, my passion, and under Margaret Thatchers Tory Government I certainly had plenty to rage about. Over the years I have been involved with various campaigns: Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners, Equal Age of Consent, Stop Clause 28, Funding for HIV and AIDS, Gays in The Military, and Equal Marriage, to name but a few.

I believe that I played my part in making the UK a better and easier place for LGBT+ youth coming out and growing up today, and I am very proud of that. Still, there is much left to do, and the fight continues. These days I am Co-Chair of Southend Pride, LGBT+ Support Worker for Southend Unison, and LGBT Officer for Southend West Labour Party.

On Coming Out Day, I think it is important to remember that coming out is an ongoing process. A new school or college, university, work, clubs etc etc. The list is endless, and every time new people come into our lives there is always the question of whether to come out or not. We all want to live our true lives as our true selves, and I dream of the day when coming out does not exist, when everyone can just say they are in love. Until that time, we must monitor those around us and the environment in which we operate before coming out. But when we do, how good it feels!

Stay safe. Be proud.