These queer legends are living proof there’s no rush when it comes to labels – and nobody ever needs to suffer in silence

LGBT+ figures on Childline

In partnership with Childline, PinkNews spoke to four influential LGBT+ people from all walks of life about their journey to accepting their own identities, and why nobody of any age needs to rush into a label.

Since lockdown began, countless young people have come to the realisation for the first time that they might be LGBT+, and are turning to Childline for support.

The charity has seen an 86 per cent increase in calls from children aged 11 and under about sexuality and gender identity since measures came into place.

The weekly number of counselling sessions about sexuality and gender identity overall has risen by more than 12 per cent as more young people reach out for support by calling 0800 1111 or speaking to a Childline counsellor online.

Though it’s easy to feel alone, it’s an experience millions go through and come out the other side stronger and filled with LGBT+ pride, as these four influential figures will attest.

Char Bailey grew up in Wolverhampton with Indian Punjabi and Jamaican parents.

As a lesbian, she’s a huge advocate for speaking openly about mental health, and sharing what it’s like to be an autistic person of colour in a world that lacks authentic representation.

She told PinkNews: “It’s important to speak openly about mental health because it affects us and the people around us.

“The more we talk about it, the more we help ourselves and the more we can help each other.

“My advice to a young LGBT+ person who’s struggling right now would be to remember that this is temporary — it’s not going to last forever and it will get better.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to encounter a problem, or a struggle, or a challenge, so that you can grow. You’re loved, and your existence is valid.

“And if you need support, please reach out — call Childline or use their online services, speak to a counsellor and get the help that you deserve.”

Bisexual and body positive influencer Essie Dennis told PinkNews how Childline helped her as a young person.

“I actually used Childline myself when I was growing up,” she explained.

“I am bisexual and it took me a long time to figure that out because I didn’t realise it was OK for me to be fluid.

“It is so important to talk about your mental health because if you don’t, you can end up feeling really alone, when in fact, there are lots of people out there who will support you.

“It’s not good to have your feelings bottled up all the time.

Don’t feel like you need to put a label on yourself straight away.

“You should be able to explore your identity. In fact, it’s a great thing to do. Don’t feel like you need to put a label on yourself straight away.

“Being a young LGBT+ person can be really tough and you have to remember to be kind to yourself.

“If you are struggling, remember you can get support from Childline and they will be there.”

Olympic hopeful Michael Gunning appeared on The Bi Life.

Hosted by Courtney Act, the reality show saw people from all over the UK open up about being proudly bisexual or simply figuring themselves out.

On the series, Michael – who swims for Team Jamiaca – shared his struggles with coming to terms with his sexuality. After taking time to figure himself out, he is now an out and proud gay man.

He told PinkNews: “When I was younger I really did struggle with my sexuality.

“I suppressed so many thoughts and feelings but I think it’s important to know that it’s OK not to be OK.”

Freddie Bentley, who starred on Channel 4’s The Circle, says his favourite catchphrase is ‘stay camp and be fabulous’.

But accepting himself wasn’t something that happened immediately.

“I love the fact that I’m gay, I embrace being gay every day but before I came out as gay I really did struggle,” he explained to PinkNews.

“Although I had struggles with myself – I was a very angry child – as soon as I came out, it was like the weight lifted off my shoulders.

“Please do not suffer in silence – there is someone always willing to talk to you and to have your back.

“If there is anyone out there struggling, please, please know that you are valid, you are loved, no matter whether you are out or not.

“You can do this and I know at this very tough time, you’ll have self-doubt but please don’t. And remember to always love yourself.

“You can reach out to Childline and please make sure you do. You are not alone.”

You are not alone.

A Childline spokesperson said: “During lockdown we’ve seen an increase in young people coming to us with concerns about their gender and sexual identity, many are struggling with their mental and emotional health.

“Lockdown has made it harder for young people to talk about their gender and sexual identity, especially if they fear a negative reaction from those they are isolating with. A Childline counsellor is sometimes the first person they have told about how they feel.

“It’s encouraging to see that young people feel able to talk to Childline, without fear of being judged or stigmatised. We want young people to know that they can come to Childline with any worries they may have, we are here to support all young people.”

If you are a young person in the UK, Childline can help. Their website has self-help tools, advice pages and message boards with peer-to-peer support.

Visit the Childline website for free and confidential support or to speak to a Childline counsellor.