The seismic shift in the UK's view on LGBT people has transformed the experience of Pride from protest to parade. Bystanders no longer jeer and stare open mouthed- they cheer and celebrate with us on this day of overt visibility and expression. This is to be welcomed in a world where many are still ridiculed, persecuted and killed for being LGBT.
But scratch just below the glitter and the effect of a life times worth of shame and stigma is there for all to see. The evidence of this can be found in the growing wealth of data indicating LGBT people are 4 times more susceptible to depression, self harming, addictive behaviour, abuse and isolation as our heterosexual peers (ref: Stonewall research). This alarming disproportion becomes ever more dramatic the closer we look at minorities within the LGBT community - the disabled, BME and transgendered.
The journey from 'coming out' to 'pride' has skipped over the need to heal and grieve our painful past. We are of the belief that looking inwards is a way of dealing with coming out.
When Ade Adeniji and I founded The Quest for Gay Men, which is a not for profit social enterprise, offering men a safe space, in the form of workshops and weekend retreats, to experience cutting edge therapies to free them of shame, guilt, low self esteem, vulnerability and depression which can often be heavily present within gay and bi-sexual men. We were simply responding to the harsh facts and the shared experiences of those around us that gay men were actually suffering deep pain and often seemed to be on the rainy side of the colourful rainbow.
During our very first program the untold stories of childhood fear, isolation, desperate loneliness and confusion started to get aired. It was like a line of domino's - one guy would share about the 'secret games' he played and there followed an avalanche of stories about abuse, bullying, rejection, humiliation and not knowing where or whom to turn to in those early years. What astounded us was the quantity of pain that our participants were suppressing. Over the last 4 years we have developed a highly successful and deeply experiential healing hub for men.
Within the programme, each participant, feeling safe and supported, opens up and shares a personal story which often triggers others in the group to connect with these deep rooted feelings. Carefully guided by the professional coaches, the person sharing the story and the group experience a release from the pain and anger that was carried within them. This is often powerfully cathartic. Prior to this many are trapped within their story, repeating patterns of behaviour and carrying restrictive beliefs about themselves and how others perceived them.
While much of the world moved on, we stayed stuck.
We could see very clearly how our past was having a direct impact on our lives and relationships in the present. Once freed from the power these stories had held over them, our participants found themselves in a strangely unfamiliar place - where exciting and scary possibilities now replaced resentments and limitations.
Since completing The Quest for Men Program, some of our participants have adopted children, married, come out to their families / at work, ended unhealthy relationships, moved jobs, switched careers, ceased destructive behaviours, made intimate new friendships, re-established contact with family members...the list goes on.
The Quest Program is a transformative process that enables people to smash through the 'pink ceiling' that was created in the shadows of shame and isolation as small children.
The Program gradually developed over the years - our evolution comes from a growing understanding of how past distress, pain and trauma affects our mind, body and spirit.
We found a powerful ally in the research into Shame and Vulnerability undertaken by renowned research professor, Brene Brown, whom we met in June 2013, and then went on to be certified with her in The Daring Way™, which is based on her research.
Simply put, we create a safe space for Gay men to revisit the past, share their stories and release the pain contained within them in order to find release and freedom. It's a unique, powerful experiential 'rite of passage'. The programme is organised in groups of up to 20 gay and bi-sexual men, draws upon the latest evidence based practices including - self-inquiry, discussions in small and large groups, sharing memories, psychological exploration, visualisation, book work, journaling, coaching, self reflection and contributions from practitioners including Brene Brown, Alan Downs and David Richo.
The widely held view that all is now well in the UK for LGBT people and especially the new youthful generation is a naive and dangerous assumption and belies the trauma and distress still experienced as small children try to navigate their difference. Our LGBT identities were born with us and from the age of 4 upwards we became aware that we were different and that that difference was unacceptable. This creates the fragile psychological foundation upon which our self worth is built and which glitter balls, soap story lines and wedding confetti alone cannot resolve.
So, I will be parading this year as I have marched in years gone by, I will enjoy the celebration and the exhilaration of feeling, momentarily, the mainstream. As I do, so I will bear in mind that we are carrying deep wounds that many, both straight and gay, would rather deny, forget or ignore.