Skip to content

Many of the years I spent in secondary school were also spent hiding my true self. I grew up in Australia where navigating the path to accepting my sexuality was not only rocky, but desperately lonely.

The lack of representation both at school and in society more broadly made me think that it would be very difficult to ever come out, let alone live a happy life as an openly LGBTQIA+ person.

I remember living my life feeling like an outsider, as all the people around me knew me for a person that I was not. This isolation was not just about being different; it was about feeling fundamentally alone in that difference.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, I am finding that these memories have come into sharp focus. I can reflect on how far I’ve come, and what exactly made the difference. The answer, for me, is predominantly dialogue and visibility.

I volunteer as an ambassador for Just Like Us, which means I speak to school pupils alongside other volunteers about my experiences growing up LGBTQIA+. When I give a talk, I delve into the common threads between the challenges I faced growing up, and the impact these had on my mental health, as well as the challenges which many LGBTQIA+ youth still face today. These discussions are less about providing answers and more about encouraging questions, fostering understanding, and promoting the kind of dialogue I wish that I had as a student.

Each session is an opportunity to emphasise that while individual experiences vary, there are similarities in the paths taken by many LGBTQIA+ people in navigating their sexuality and/or gender identity. By doing this, I hope to remind those in the audience that they are not alone and, in turn, make it that little bit easier for those in the audience who may be struggling.

The feedback from these sessions often highlights a shared sentiment among students — they appreciate the openness and the opportunity to discuss these topics with LGBTQIA+ people who are only a little bit older than them. I am helping to give them exactly what I needed: dialogue and visibility. We are helping to chip away at the stigma which can surround mental health and the broader LGBTQIA+ experience, and this has been transformative for my own mental health.

My journey from solitude to speaking with other Just Like Us ambassadors in front of students is not just a personal victory, but it is also testament to the resilience of countless individuals who have fought and those who continue to fight for a world where fewer people have to grow up feeling alone because of their identity.

Now, I know that I can live a happy life as a gay man. Now, when I stand in front of students, I am acutely aware of the role I play as a fellow traveller who is helping to light the way on the complex journey of navigating one’s identity.

During this week of awareness, I reflect not on a circle completed but on a path that winds forward, beckoning us all to keep moving, keep speaking, and keep supporting each other. It is a journey we undertake together, and one we will continue to navigate, one story at a time.

Rich volunteers as an ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBTQIA+ young people’s charity. LGBT+ and aged 18 to 25? Sign up here!