Shwmae! (Or ‘hello’, for those of you who don’t speak Welsh.) My name’s Christian and I’m a Stonewall Youth Volunteering programme alumnus. I’m from not-so-sunny Swansea, South Wales, but I now live in Cardiff where I study History at University.
In 2014 I started volunteering for Stonewall Cymru’s Information Service. This meant I gave individuals and organisations information on all LGBT issues - from local LGBT-inclusive activities, to adoption and parenting.
I went on to volunteer at events, such as Stonewall Cymru’s Workplace Conference and the National Eisteddfod (it’s this big festival held in a field every year, all in Welsh. People write poetry to win a chair… yeah, Wales is that cool). What I learnt was that even though we have some of the best laws in the world protecting LGBT people, there’s still so much to do, especially in our workplaces and in our learning spaces.
Because of this, I decided to apply for the Stonewall Youth Volunteering programme and I got in! Through the SYVP, I met some amazing like-minded people who I’ve been friends with ever since, most of whom still campaign tirelessly for LGBT equality. The SYVP begins with the residential weekend, where you work with lovely Stonewall staff and the other Volunteers on what makes a good campaign. By the end of the weekend you have a good idea of what you’d like to change in your school/college/university/youth club (or just about any other space!)
As part of the programme, I went back to my old secondary school in Swansea to try and tackle the use of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) language. I did this by giving an assembly to the sixth form on my experiences of bullying when I was in school. At the end, I asked if any of the students wanted to help change the same experiences I had. I thought one or two would stay behind, but I was overwhelmed (and a little teary!) when 30 young people wanted to help.
We set up the Cyngor Cefnogi Cydraddoldeb (that’s the ‘Equality Panel’, to you). I held workshops with the Panel on HBT language and bullying, and we decided to hold a coffee morning to raise awareness of the issue and raise money for Stonewall Cymru - we raised £150. That was amazing, but the best thing about the day was seeing the sixth formers I’d trained going out and talking to staff and younger school students about why we shouldn’t use ‘gay’ in a bad way.
A few months passed, and the Youth Awards came. Gok Wan, Andrew Scott, and Sanjay Sood-Smith were there (everybody was geeking out!) to celebrate the amazing work all of the Youth Volunteers. I was delighted that the amazing Sirina-Monique won a ‘Young Campaigner of the Year’ award for her brilliant rap. The next thing I know, Gok Wan is calling me on stage to accept my award, too!
It’s been a whirlwind ever since! I’ve been on the cover of Attitude magazine and been given an Attitude Pride Award; I’ve spoken at Stonewall’s Education Conference and Stonewall Cymru’s Workplace Conference; and I’ve been on welsh-language chat show ‘Heno’ and welsh-language radio to talk about my experiences!
It probably goes without saying that I’ve loved every second of my time working with Stonewall to achieve their aim of making the world a better place for LGBT people. I’ve met people who are passionate about the same issues as me, gained a bunch of useful skills that I’ll need after I graduate, and made memories that will stay with me forever.
I’d encourage anybody who’s interested in taking part in a Stonewall Youth Volunteering programme to do it. Stonewall does one thing very well, and that’s bringing out the very best in every single individual they work with. If you want to be the change you want to see in the world, meet amazing people, and make some long-lasting memories, then working with Stonewall is something for you.