Approx 700 words.

Pride Month takes place every year in June. It’s an opportunity for the global lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and non-binary communities to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights and equality — and to highlight how much work is still to be done. Co-founder of Crawley LGBTQ+, Vincent Mitchell, speaks to us about how his organisation is the first of its kind in Crawley and what it means to be pro-LGBTQ+ in 2021.

What is Crawley LGBTQ+?

It was formed in 2018 by volunteers, including me, to organise a Pride celebration for the first time in Crawley, West Sussex. The amount of help we had was unbelievable, even in the early stages, from people offering support, to sponsorship opportunities. It’s been amazing!

It also quickly became apparent that our town needed other LGBTQ+ services, such as education, advice, care and support.

When the pandemic happened, we postponed our event to 2021 and focused on delivering a signposting service for outreach support, including counselling, sexual health education, awareness training and family guidance. That wasn’t initially part of the plan — it just evolved!

What are you trying to achieve in your local area, and how?

Our aims are to raise awareness of the issues facing people in the LGBTQ+ community, including lack of positive representation, social stigma and exclusion, as well as to promote Crawley as a safe place for them and create a sense of belonging. We run weekly online social events, a choir, podcast, radio station and LGBTQ+ helpline.

How did you first hear about the Co-op Local Community Fund?

I grew up in Crawley and know the Co-op stores in the area really well, so I was aware that Co-op supported local groups like ours. When we came up with the idea for Crawley LGBTQ+, the Member Pioneer in our area reached out and said that Co-op would be able to support us. He gave us all the tools we needed and made it super-accessible. He’s been an absolute legend in this whole process.

I love that Co-op are involved. I shop in their stores all the time and it’s amazing to know they are behind us and so supportive. We were absolutely shell-shocked to receive funding from Co-op members.

How has the money raised by Co-op members helped you?

Before Crawley LGBTQ+, there wasn’t a hub for the LGBTQ+ community — there was nothing. Thanks to the support we’ve received from Co-op Members, through the Local Community Fund, we’ve gained visibility in the town a lot more quickly than we initially expected and have been able to extend our outreach services even further.

We’re also seeing other community groups emerge, which is really exciting. Working with the community and helping to develop worthwhile projects is one of the most rewarding things about being part of the cause.

What does it mean to you to be pro-LGBTQ+?

Being pro-LGBTQ+ is quite an individual thing to many people. For me, it’s about being positive and changing outdated views about the gay, lesbian, bi, trans and non-binary communities. When I was growing up, I had lots of support from my family and friends, so I was very fortunate, but I recognise that there are lots of people out there who don’t have that support. It’s about being positive, supportive and inclusive.

What’s next for Crawley LGBTQ+?

We’re currently developing an inclusivity training course, so we’ll be able to go into professional establishments and teach others about what it means to be pro-LGBTQ+. We’d also like to set up a Crawley LGBTQ+ helpline as another way for members of the community to reach out to us if they need support, or other signposting services.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s chosen our cause. Your support will go a long way within the LGBTQ+ community!

Vincent Mitchell
Co-founder of Crawley LGBTQ+

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#TheCoopWay, Communities locally in the UK, Local causes, Respect LGBTQ+ network