50 Years of Pride – An Interview with Out Together – Friends of Dorothy

Two older men lean against each other as they look out a view of a waterfall

2022 marks 50 years of Pride in the UK, since the first Pride in 1972 in London where around 2,000 participants marched together, advocating for gay rights.

At the time of the first official UK Pride march, LGBTQ+ people in the UK faced severe cultural and legal discrimination. It has not always been a straight-forward march to progress, yet there is much to celebrate in terms of how far we have come. In 2019, London Pride saw 1.5 million people celebrate and protest in support of LGBTQ+ rights.

To mark this year’s Pride, we reach out to speak with Matthew Jameson, from Out Together – Friends of Dorothy to discuss the work that Out Together – Friends of Dorothy does supporting the Older LGBTQ+ community, the need for inclusive and accessible spaces and how Pride has evolved.

Three people stood next to each other smiling

NCFD: Can you tell us a little bit your organisation in your own words?

Matt: Out Together – Friends of Dorothy is an organisation that is there to support the older LGBTQ+ community in battling loneliness and social isolation, within the community and wider. We’re very much there to support anybody within the LGBTQ+ community that feels that they are isolated and wants to reconnect with the community, and with other like-minded people.

We were set up originally as a social group, quite a few years ago now, but we became a charity back in March 2020, when the pandemic was just hitting. At that time, we moved everything online but as we’re getting towards some kind of normality, we’re increasing our programme of face-to-face activities across Leeds and West Yorkshire. This includes a drop-in session at Flamingo’s café, which is in Leeds City Centre every Wednesday morning – so anybody can drop into that, everyone is welcome to come have a coffee or hot chocolate on us.

At the Leeds Playhouse, who we’re working with, on the third Thursday of the month, we have a lunch, and we normally have a speaker or a social. On the first Sunday of the month we have a Sunday lunch which we subsidise part of. We also have ad-hoc activities throughout the months, like theatre trips, open gardens, we go for walks and we’re just organising a seaside trip at the moment. It’s a varied programme of activity to engage with the older LGBTQ+ community and to make sure they’re included in everything that we’re wanting to do.

NCFD: Do you feel that your members were particularly affected over lockdown?

Matt: Definitely, a lot of our members are ageing, and have other health conditions. Many were isolating, many were making sure they were safe, and many aren’t very tech savvy. So even though we moved our programme online there were still a lot of people, even where we are now, who don’t have access to those facilities. It’s even more important that we’re continuing to have activities that are face-to-face and can engage with people.

We have a list of people that we contact by phone because they’re not on email – we’re not able to communicate with them technologically, so we give them a call on their home phone and send a leaflet out in the post to make sure that they are aware of the activities that are coming up. People were very much affected and so we’re very keen on making sure we continue to support the community in that way.

NCFD: It sounds like it’s important to be adaptable to people’s needs

Matt: Exactly, we’ve also recently just partnered with Opening Doors and we’ve launched a tele-friending service. This is for individuals who are the most kind of isolated and lonely and don’t have a social network: maybe don’t go out, or maybe aren’t even out as LGBTQ+ in their circle. It’s a service that matches that person with a volunteer, they then build that relationship with a weekly call. We’re working with Opening Doors to deliver that service as part of Out Together – Friends of Dorothy’s offering within the older LGBTQ+ community here in West Yorkshire.

NCFD: As we come up to 50 years of Pride this year how would you say that Pride has changed for you or Out Together – Friends of Dorothy’s members over the years?

Matt: That’s an interesting question – I can probably only say from my perspective. So I’ve just turned 40, it’s interesting that you would ask me that question because we were talking about first experiences with Pride the other day. I was actually 15 and I happened to be in Manchester, and I wasn’t out at that point. The group of people that I was with were like “It’s gay pride, let’s go down to the village.” So we walked down to the Village and that was the first time that I was presented with Pride, and my first time even seeing gay people, seeing two gay men kiss on the street: it was all a bit overwhelming.

It’s so important that we’re able to celebrate who we are, but it’s also important to bring all our allies and everyone else with us on that journey.

From that, from the way I’ve seen Pride develop, it’s become such a flagship event over the last 25 years, that I’ve been aware of it. It’s so important that we’re able to celebrate who we are, but it’s also important to bring all our allies and everyone else with us on that journey. It’s not just about us shouting ‘Hi we’re gay we’re here!’, it’s about the diversity of being able to bring everyone else on that journey, so there isn’t a separation.

I’m organising Out Together – Friends of Dorothy to be in Leeds Pride and we’re working in conjunction with Leeds Law Society, who are supporting us, and their president is supporting us because he’s out as LGBTQ+. It’s the first time that they’ve had an LGBTQ+ president, and the first time that they’re getting involved with the Pride event. It’s exciting that we’re having those collaborations with allies – it’s about bringing everybody together.

Linking that back to our members and people that are involved with Out Together – Friends of Dorothy we’re very aware that we need to make it as safe and comfortable as possible for some of our older members. We’re making sure that we can have a suitable place prior to the parade and post parade, a safe space away from the crowd where our members can refresh.

It’s really important to remember the struggle, and everything our older generations of LGBTQ+ people went through to give us the freedom that we have today. There is still so far to go, don’t get me wrong, but we are in such a positive place compared to where we were 25 years ago when I first was introduced to the gay world, and then the previous 25 years as well.

But when I think about it, there are elements where you think have we come that far? – or are there things that have gone back again? It’s very socially acceptable, it’s in the media and very much in TV. I was in a TV show last year – Married at First Sight UK and I was a part of the first LGTBQ+ couple that they’ve had on the UK show, so I married Daniel and we’re still together. To be part of that with Channel 4 you see how mainstream it’s becoming, but when you go to certain areas and you meet certain people, you can still feel, I guess, a little bit of hostility, and the homophobia that is still, unfortunately, deeply ingrained within our society or certain areas of our society– there’s still a long way to go.

NCFD: Speaking from the National Centre for Diversity’s perspective, our mission is to build inclusive and fair workplaces, often this means addressing the hardships that diverse groups face – can you tell us a little bit about your experience being LGBTQ+ at work?

Matt: In my working environment, I’ve always been very open about who I am, it’s never been an issue for me, I think I’ve been quite lucky in that respect, that I’ve never come across any kind of hostility in the workplace, and actually I’ve always found very pleasant experiences. I’ve always been very accepted, within the workplace – I know that isn’t the same for everyone, but I feel I’ve been quite lucky in that respect.

NCFD: You talked about needing a quiet space for your members at Pride, do you have any other accessibility requirements that you take into account?

Obviously, stairs, because we have quite a few people that aren’t as mobile, and that’s obviously something that we need to look at for the parade. We want to make sure that we are providing the right support for those people.

NCFD: What do you love about your job?

Matt: So, I love working with Friends of Dorothy – Out Together because it is an absolutely fantastic organisation and it really does show the meaning of community – especially within the LGBTQ+ community but beyond that as well because it’s bringing everybody together.

One of the things that I love about it is the inter-generational side of it – we want to support people who are 50+ , but we are completely inclusive and it’s great when we have younger generations wanting to get involved and support and help – and that’s how I got involved, because it was a great way to celebrate the great achievements of the older LGBTQ+ community but also then provide a safe space, an inclusive space and fun times. An opportunity for those people to connect with each other, keep well, have fun and stay safe.

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