Mental Health and LGBT Awareness in Oxfordshire

23 June 2020

As we celebrate Pride Month, I wanted to take a look back at a few examples of how I have contributed towards mental health and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) awareness in Oxfordshire.

I identify as part of the LGBT community and I am also autistic. Despite my disability I have contributed towards a number of campaigns and initiatives that have taken be beyond my comfort zone on a few occasions.

My Story so Far

In 2017, I was invited to take photos of Guideposts LGBT group called Mingle at Oxford Pride. This group is part of the Mates n Dates project but is specifically for people with learning disabilities and autism who identify as part of the LGBT community. 

I have to be honest here, I was feeling slightly nervous with taking photos that day. But I went along and joined the group on what was a lovely sunny day at the start of the parade at Radcliffe Square in Oxford. I was inspired by the passion and enthusiasm of the group and they were not camera shy! I can remember racing to the end of the parade to catch them as they entered Oxford Castle and the market stalls. The images captured that moment in history for the group as they attend this pride event each year. For Mingle members its an opportunity for them to catch up with friends and celebrate who they truly are without fear.

Later that same year, I coordinated a mental health awareness event at the Corn Exchange in Witney. I can remember inviting both Oxford Friend and Trans Oxford to this event as I wanted to have inclusion represented. LGBT people are more susceptible to mental health problems due to a range of factors including discrimination and inequalities and therefore I was determined to have the above groups, Guideposts and many other great local organisations represented that day.

Paul with his rainbow Pride flag

2018

In 2018, I campaigned to have the Rainbow Flag being flown by West Oxfordshire District Council and Witney Town Council during local pride events. I was really pleased to say that both Council’s agreed to this initiative. I donated a Rainbow Flag to Witney Town Council as they made no provision for one and it was great to see this flag being flown from the Town Hall for the first time in the town’s history.

That same year, I attended Oxford Pride with Time To Change a project of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness that aims to end mental health stigma and discrimination. I led a team of Champions on the day and it was a fantastic opportunity to be alongside Rethink Mental Illness Oxfordshire Carers, Guideposts and many other great charities and organisations talking about mental health at Pride.

During 2018 and 2019, I participated at LGBT Equality Staff Network meetings at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. I enjoyed attending these meetings as it was a fantastic opportunity to meet with staff and volunteers on LGBT issues. The Head of Inclusion at Oxford Health was very passionate to get everyone involved and it was very inspiring.

I also contributed towards having the Rainbow Flag flown at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust at the Warneford Hospital in Oxford during this same time period.

Pandemic

In 2020, I supported the Mates n Dates team to coordinate our attendance at a number of pride events in Oxfordshire. We were all set to have a great summer and then we had the Coronavirus pandemic and everything changed. Lots of work had gone into planning for these events, it was such a shame.

Over the years I have contributed towards a number of campaigns and initiatives for both mental health and LGBT awareness. I am still very passionate about these causes and I will continue to make contributions towards these along with supporting the Mates n Dates team.

With many pride events having been postponed or cancelled this year, we celebrate Pride Month online via Zoom, YouTube, Facebook or specific pride websites. We may not be together in person this year but we can still celebrate self-affirmation, dignity, equality and increased visibility of the LGBT community.

Although I have come to the end of my blog post here this is not the end of my story. My journey is far from over and this will be revealed in the years to come.

If you wish to contact me please send me an email.

Happy Pride Month!

Paul Hicks – Volunteer