Devoted father of a gay son is running the length of Britain to help LGBT+ kids live the lives they deserve

neil atherton running with son with Alex

A devoted father is “virtually running” from Land’s End to John O’Groats in an incredible feat of philanthropy inspired by his gay son.

Librarian and dad Neil Atherton will run or walk every day for a year, aiming to clock the 603 miles straight-line distance between Land’s End and John O’Groats.

Atherton said he wanted to undertake the challenge because he has struggled with his own mental health, and decided to fundraise to keep himself accountable. 

“I thought if I’m doing it for someone else, I’m more likely to keep focused to do it and want to go out there everyday,” he told PinkNews.

He decided to raise money for LGBT+ youth charity Just Like Us because their cause was “close to my heart and home”, especially after his son Alex came out as gay at the age of 16. 

neil atherton virutal run just like us

Neil Atherton alongside his son Alex and the rest of their family. (Neil Atherton)

Atherton explained how he was moved by a video of the charity’s young student ambassadors.

“I don’t care who you are, but you could see they’re just like us – people with insecurities like we all have,” he said.

“Only more than that, they’re dealing with insecurities around their sexuality and acceptance in the world.

“That two-minute film just really hit home for me because it’s easy to look at statistics or read about people or stereotypes. 

“But when you’re heaving the voices of the young people themselves, it was refreshing, and it touched me.”

Dad says his son coming out ‘didn’t matter’.

Atherton said, in some ways, someone’s sexuality is “no one’s business but their own”.

Although many young queer people“feel like [they’re] living half a life or are hiding part of yourself”, he believes coming out is about “celebrating yourself wanting to live a life the way you want to live without worrying about people pointing, staring”.

His own son, Alex, decided to come out to the family when he was a teenager.

“I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad he felt like he could share with us,” Atherton recalled.

“I’ve always said, he thought crossed my mind when Alex was two years old that he could be gay, and that was all the thought I gave it. 

“It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.”

‘This is what Pride is about.’

Since creating the challenge, Atherton has received an outpouring of support and has already raised £390 of his £1,000 goal, with months left to go.

Beyond the money, Atherton said the challenge is about starting a dialogue about the challenges young LGBT+ people face. 

He said: “I’m sure there are more families out there experiencing something similar, and they just don’t feel like they need to talk about it, which is fine.

“But at the same time, this is what Pride is about. It’s about celebrating your sexuality and not living in fear.”

Atherton is looking forward to talking about Pride and about being the parent of an LGBT+ child with friends and colleagues “who I maybe haven’t talked to before”.

Dominic Arnall, chief executive of Just Like Us, said Atherton’s fundraising challenge will not only help support the lives of LGBT+ young people, but he’s also a “fantastic example of how parents can be supportive allies to their LGBT+ children”.

He added: “We’re also delighted that Neil chose Just Like Us because Riverside College Halton and Cronton Sixth Form College, where Neil works, have taken part in School Diversity Week, which is our biggest annual celebration of LGBT+ inclusion in education.

“We’re encouraging all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges to sign up now to take part in School Diversity Week 2021 – it’s free, happening online if you need it to, and you’ll get a bunch of free resources to help your school celebrate.

“A huge good luck to Neil – especially in the snow! We’re so grateful for his support.”