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Gay and Lesbian Rights campaigner receives this year's Citizenship Award

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Jan Bridget and Nader FekriThe first item on the agenda for Calderdale Metropolitan Council’s Annual Meeting last week at Halifax Town Hall was the presentation of the Calderdale Citizenship Award. 

The retiring mayor of Calderdale, Councillor Nader Fekri, said he was personally proud to have nominated Jan Bridget as the recipient of this year’s Citizenship Award.   He said:

“The Council of Calderdale Metropolitan Borough wishes to applaud and acknowledge the contribution to the benefit of the community made by Jan Bridget for services to the gay and lesbian community of Calderdale, especially amongst its younger members and for helping combat homophobia throughout the Borough, so making Calderdale a more tolerant and supportive place, celebrating its richly diverse communities.”

In response, Jan Bridget thanked the mayor for the award as well as those who had supported Gay and Lesbian Youth in Calderdale over the past twelve years.  She commented on how times had changed:  “When Calderdale Council first provided grant aid to GALYIC you were criticised in the media by one of your colleagues for giving funding to lesbian and gay young people, ‘to have get to know you better sex parties when there were more deserving causes.’"

Ms Bridget continued, “Here I am, in 2012, receiving the mayor’s citizenship award that recognises me and my work with LGBT young people in Calderdale. WOW! “

Jan went on to outline firstly, how she jointly set Lesbian Information Service in Leicester in 1987 and co-ran  LIS for twelve years, until her work in Calderdale took over.  Then in 1999, having identified through research the significant needs of lesbian and gay young people in Calderdale, Jan set up GALYIC with some of the young people who had taken part in the research.

She said she was extremely sad that GALYIC had to close in 2011 but was very, very,  proud of what had been achieved during  the 12 years of  its existence,  not least helping young people to be proud of who they were and supporting them to turn their lives around. 

Jan  said she was especially proud of those young people who had stood up and given presentations to challenge institutional homophobia, to local services and also, to much acclaim, at conferences and events around the country.

Ms Bridget said she was proud of what she has achieved,  supporting LGBT young people to have a normal adolescence, to meet other young gay people, to not be isolated and on their own, to feel normal and not a monster, to have the confidence in who they are  and to be able to challenge discrimination.

She said her passion for challenging injustice and campaigning for the rights of LGBT young people was born out of her own experience: growing up in a poor, single-parent family in 1950’s Lancashire, knowing she was gay from the age of 11 but not knowing any other gays; leaving school at 15 without any qualifications and working in local factories; escaping the small-town existence by joining the WRAF and serving in the RAF for six years – surviving  both basic training  and several witch hunts to expel lesbians. 

On demob Jan took a shorthand typing course and became a secretary in London and then, with the aid of a grant, became a mature student and gained the equivalent of A levels  followed by an upper second degree at London University. 

She used her education to become a youth and community worker but, having come out as a lesbian at her first staff conference, was told, in no uncertain terms, that as a lesbian couldn’t work with girls and that she’d never be promoted.  So she moved to Leicester and, with her then partner, Sandra Lucille, set up Lesbian Information Service.

Building on this experience, Jan spent the next 25 years supporting LGBT people and challenging homophobia.   She said she did this because she wanted, “to ensure young people with similar backgrounds to me did not have to suffer  internalised homophobia, isolation and discrimination.”

“Whilst there has been progress,” Jan stressed that, “much, much, more is needed:  I was never bullied in school whereas now homophobic bullying is rife. This has got to stop; parents must learn to love and accept their children irrespective of whether they are gay, straight, bi or trans and individuals must stop using religion to promote their own homophobia.” 

She concluded by telling the councillors that they had the power to do something.  She thanked them again for the award and asked that they ensured the work GALYIC began, continued  - for as long as it was needed.

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