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FLAGS National Active Support Unit

James Wharton

we were lucky enough to have James Wharton come speak and share with us on Saturday morning.... if you need inspiration, read what he had to say

for more information about James, his experiences and his work - click here


I was thrilled to be asked to come here this morning and chat with you. Pride in London is one of a few annual events I really get excited about; I have such closeness to the event, and the people who make everything possible. A key feature of this event is the voluntary element of it. It would not happen if people didn’t volunteer to support it; and that’s right from the top, down.

My first Pride was 2008. It was the first year the uniformed armed services were allowed to participate, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but there were senior figures in the military that actively partitioned against our involvement in the parade. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion as to why that might have been.

That day will live with me forever because for me, and almost 100 other members of the military like me, it was the day we stopped feeling alone; we stopped feeling isolated in whatever base we each served, and learned for the first time that there were many others.

When I arrived at the Army meeting point that morning, just like you have today, it didn’t take long for me to make lots of connections, many of which I’m still in touch with.

These people had lived a similar experience to me within the army; they had been through the mill with regards to being different and were longing to make connections and friends in the same way I was. Earlier that morning I almost considered not attending, but something told me to get on the train, something inside me knew it was going to be a watershed moment in my life.

How many people are here today participating in this event for the firstt time?

And out of you, how many of you have already made a friend, a contact that you didn’t know before arriving?

The fact of the matter is, Pride in London; or pride anywhere for that matter, is a great occasion to not only celebrate where we are as a community, but also to branch out and build bridges within our community. Make as many friends as you can today!

Vitally, Pride is also an opportunity for us to appropriately draw attention to discrimination, particularly homophobia, which is still very evident here on the street of our capital.

In the last three weeks alone there have there been two major incidents of homophobic hate crime involving significant violence in this very city. It is also harrowing for me that in the year equal marriage was enshrined to law, homophobic hate crimes nationally have risen. Clearly, our work is not done here.

So, whenever anybody asks “what’s the point of Pride”, you tell them that as long as there’s a risk to LGBT people on the streets of the UK suffering physical violence because of who they are, Pride will go on. I and a lot of people like me will never stop supporting Pride events, because they are opportunities to highlight homophobia. And homophobia must have no part of our society.

I was never a member of the Scouts; I’m very sorry about this. At the age of thirteen my attention was caught by the military and so I signed up to the Army Cadet Force. But although, and of course, these two organisations are different, they do share a lot of common ground… most obviously in the field of offering young people exciting opportunities to grow and progress in their development.

And as leaders of young people who come to the Scouts to grow, to learn fresh skills and to be challenged in all senses, you are role models. And as role models, you are the identifiable, accessible and approachable leaders of their development and progression into the big wide world.

To those of you who are out, proud and open about your sexuality, I take my hat off to you. Everybody in British society should be encouraged to be who they are in all aspects of their everyday life. We all know, though, that isn’t always possible and that’s why being you is so vital. Thank you for being that person.

I also say, if anybody perhaps is not out in their scouting circles, or indeed other circles, don’t ever feel pressured into coming out, but believe me when I say, when you do come out you will be directly supporting somebody who might not yet have the courage to say who they really are. When we come out, regardless of position or career, we become a role model to somebody. Somebody around you thinks “hey… they’re like me!”, and that kind of support is priceless.

Coming out in the army at the age of 18, being a role model wasn’t at all in my mind. I came out because I needed to be true to my feelings; I needed to live my life. But, soon I became aware that my coming out did have a knock on effect. There were other outcomes from it, and those outcomes were other soldiers, soldiers I didn’t really know, viewing my recent example and realising that they too could be who they wanted to be. They too could come out and say “I’m gay”!

Today, I’m very much more aware that the things we do can have a real effect on other people. I’m moved often to read letters from people who have read my book and want to tell me of their own experiences, or longing for acceptance in the communities they live.

I know there are people in this room right now who, in being authentic in your day to day role, you have helped somebody, you have been an ear for somebody to talk to and you have gone out of your way to improve somebody’s life; those examples are what make you the role models you are; they’re what give you currency to wear that uniform, which you all do so proudly.

In every family you find some tension. I can think of a cousin of mine that I perhaps prefer not to spend too much time with, because, although we love each other as all families really do, we both know there are things we dislike about each other. This is normal isn’t it?

Your participation here today, this proud display of LGBT equality within your organisation is a wonderful message to thousands of gay young people who might like to try out being a scout. There’s about 500,000 people lining the streets out there today, and you are displaying the very best of values from your organisation; you are a great advert.
But more than anything, for LGBT members of the Boy Scouts of America, you are sending a clear message of support. And I know, if I were a scout leader in the US and I saw images online of you guys, here today, marching with such authenticity, I would feel very encouraged. I would know you are there for me.

So, to those of you who are old hats at this, who’ve done this before and are returning as Pride veterans today, welcome back! But consider for a moment how you felt that first time you came to Pride and met other people. And when you remember that feeling of excitement, of belonging, of relevance, go over and say hello to somebody who is here for the first time today, because essentially, we are all part of the same community.

I wish I could join you on the march; I think the reaction you will get as an organisation will be hard to beat elsewhere on the parade… but I will be thinking of you. I’m now off to say hello to the Stonewall Youth Pride Event and then I have to walk next to the Pride Freedom To bus along the route.

At the other end there’s one hell of a party planned, and if you are going to attend, take care of yourselves and each other.

All that’s left for me to say is Happy Pride!