Why young LGBT people need alcohol-free safe spaces

By Michael Baggs
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, London LGBT Community Centre

LGBT people in London could be getting a new alcohol-free space to meet, thanks (in part) to The 1975.

The band were among thousands of people who donated to a £100,000 crowdfunder to launch an LGBT community centre.

The volunteers who raised the money want the space to be a place for LGBT people to meet and for organisations to host social activities.

LGBT community centres exist in cities like Manchester and Leicester but there isn't one in London.

There are spaces for LGBT people across London but they are mostly built around partying and alcohol.

'Finding a space to find support - that isn't about alcohol - is key'

"There aren't any physical spaces that are open, morning until night, free from alcohol, places that you don't have to spend money to be in," says 25-year-old Michael Segalov, one of the volunteers.

"Almost half of LGBT pupils still report to being bullied because of their sex, gender or identity," claims Michael.

"Having a space people can come to, to find support, to find community, to learn from their elders is vital.

"Finding a space they can do that that isn't just around alcohol is key."

The £100,000 that has been raised so far will act as proof of a "groundswell of support" to help secure full funding from other sources such a local councils or donors.

"Nearly every other group in our society, whether it be a marginalised group, whether it's a cultural group, a religious group - they have spaces they exist in," Michael adds.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The 1975 have encouraged equality among fans, but their donation is "putting their money where their mouth is" says Michael

And it was Manchester band The 1975 who helped the London volunteers secure the first target of their fundraising.

"My phone rang and it was Matty Healy," says Michael.

"Matty basically said: 'What can we do?' It was one of the most special moments.

"So often I think we see people telling us what they can do, what they want to do for the community. They dictate what they can and will do for us."

Michael says it was inspiring to hear a celebrity ally simply ask "what do you need?"

Image source, London LGBT Community Centre
Image caption,
Michael (pictured) is among a group of volunteers who have worked to launch a London LGBT community centre

'Bars and clubs were intimidating to me'

Across the UK, centres like this have already made huge differences for people like 24-year-old Jessie Thomas.

She says she was "anxious, depressed and very isolated" when she moved to Leicester after finishing university in Yorkshire.

"I wasn't going out, I didn't know anybody in the area," Jessie tells Newsbeat.

"I thought: 'I need to meet more people like me, I need to find something that gives me my confidence back and gets me out'."

Image caption,
Jessie says having an alcohol-free safe space helped with her anxiety and depression

Jessie found LGBT bars and clubs a struggle because of her anxiety and depression and says she found social situations "overwhelming."

"They were really intimidating spaces for me, to be around all these people who were so confident with their sexuality and in general," she says.

"For me, that was impossible, so this space was so important to me."

But LGBT community centres aren't just for people in "crisis"

LGBT people are more likely to suffer with mental health problems - 64% of transgender pupils in schools report being bullied and a quarter of young homeless people are LGBT.

LGBT community centres, like the one planned in London, are designed to offer a safe space for people struggling with issues like these.

But Michael says if it happens, it won't just be a place for people looking for help.

"If you look across major cities in the UK, the US and beyond, LGBT centres are a norm, but in London, it's just not the case," he says.

"This will be a place you can come to and turn to, not just in crisis when you need something but just as a place for cultural, social, communal activities."

Image source, London LGBT community centre
Image caption,
Michael says he, and his group of volunteers, have been overwhelmed by the support for this project

For Jessie, despite first visiting an LGBT centre when she was in crisis, it was those social and communal activities that kept her coming back.

"One of the problems we see about representation in the media is that it does always seem quite negative and people think: 'If I come out as trans or gay or bi then I'm going to struggle for my whole life' because that's only side that's ever represented," she says.

"But that's not true. A place like this really does give you those friendships and it does give you opportunities."

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