We met with Rachel, LGBT Foundation's Volunteer of the Year 2016 to talk about her involvement with the community safety initiatives, and both the Women's and Trans Programmes at LGBT Foundation.
Can you introduce yourself and share a bit about yourself?
Hi my name’s Rachel, and I’m a trans woman. 2016 is such a big year for me. I have my first of three GIC assessments in September/October at Northampton GIC for my transitioning from male to female. I’ve changed all of my ID, and in April, started my new job in a call centre as me, Rachel. Yey! Since January 16 I’ve been doing various volunteering roles at LGBT Foundation and I also volunteer for #TransMCR every 2nd Saturday of each month. As part of this monthly trans community event, I have run two workshops, one a self-defense class and this month’s was a dance class. I’ve also been featured on Gaydio’s Breakfast Show with Emma to promote #TransMCR – yey!
Growing up I was very shy, got bullied by bothers, schoolmates and gangs in the street. I also had no confidence when at discos or around parties. At 14 I decided enough was enough. How can I go through life being so withdrawn, vulnerable and shy?! I went to a local jujitsu club and after 3 dedicated years became a Black Belt 2nd Dan, and was no longer bullied by anyone! This though, was a two piece jigsaw, and the other piece was to be able to dance.
I joined a ballroom dancing school nearby, which taught disco classes and went along with a friend to learn some routines. We liked it so much, we started ballroom and Latin American and soon I passed each media and trophy to advanced level. I was addicted to rhythm, it was the 80’s and street dancing was on the TV but nowhere in the UK was teaching it, so I taught myself how to ‘body pop’, break dance, and robotics. I was soon being paid and dancing around the world, in New York, at Studio 54, Ibiza, Ayia Napa and eventually Ministry of Sound in London!
How did you find out about LGBT Foundation?
I heard about LGBT Foundation online and wanted to access many of the services it offers to the LGBT community. I’ve been volunteering for the Trans Programme every month in a variety of roles, from meeting and greeting people, to running workshops myself.
Congratulations on your ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award at the LGBT Foundation Volunteer Awards. How did it feel to win the award?
It felt so surreal. Just to get voted alone in one category would of been amazing, but to get voted for in every category, then to win THE BIG AWARD of the night, I was just speechless (I know this doesn't often happen !!!) It made me realise that I can make a positive difference in life of others, simply by just being me. My Award is not just for me, it's for everyone, EVERY single person associated with the LGBT Foundation, whether a permanent member of LGBT or a Volunteer, we won this award collectively. That wonderful night and experience will stay in my heart forever. Thank you all so so much.
How has volunteering affected your health and wellbeing?
I started Volunteering at the LGBT Foundation just 6 months ago, and now volunteer in a Variety of roles, including the Women’s Programme, Trans MCR, Village Haven, Sparkle, Pride Manchester, various administrative roles. Also, I recently added volunteering for GAYDIO to my Volunteering portfolio! People come up to me now, who first seen me for the first time months ago, and say how well I look now. Volunteering keeps my feet on the ground, gives me purpose, focus and such satisfaction that I do feel it's therapy in itself! Live each day, like it's your last, you'll be Amazed at what you can achieve. Thank you LGBT Foundation.
If you’re interested in volunteering, no matter how little time you can give, I would say do it! It’s so fulfilling and gives you such satisfaction to be helping other people. But beware… it’s addictive!
What does trans visibility and trans awareness mean to you?
Society needs to catch up quick and accept that people are unique, individual and should be accepted for who they are.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best piece of advice I was given, was to Love myself first and unconditionally. By doing this, I have protected my wellbeing, physically, and mentally. I’ve gone on to exceed my Expectations. There's only one of you, you're incredible, and the sooner you realise it, the better!
What advice would you offer someone questioning their gender identity or newly out as trans?
If you are questioning your identity or have newly come out as trans I would recommend going online to find your local ‘LGBT Foundation’- type resource, as the help and understanding they can offer is priceless. You will gain more confidence and become more comfortable in who you really are.