The world can be a lonely place if you are perceived as “different” in some way. A bad experience stays with a person, which is why I feel so passionately about advocating for inclusion across the sailing and boating world.
I first had the opportunity to try kayaking and sailing as a child with my school; it was a profound experience. I'm not a competitive sailor, so getting on the water for me is a way of enjoying the outdoors and watching the amazing wildlife we’re lucky enough to witness.
Being an active bystander to me is about not putting people into boxes, allowing people to feel safe to be themselves, and gently challenging anything that you don’t feel is right. We all stumble over language occasionally, but ultimately, it’s about our intent to treat people equally and celebrating differences.
I have several family and friends who are LGBTQIA+, and it saddens me when inadvertently, they can be made to feel less welcome than they ought to be. I think being an active bystander means being mindful of who is in the room and challenging, at the time or shortly after, language or behaviour which isn’t inclusive of everyone. Everybody needs to be able to enjoy the freedom of being on the water and be welcome to play an equally valid role without discrimination.
For me, celebrating Pride is about recognising the profound changes that have happened across the world in recent years. I can remember a time when who you choose to love could result in a criminal record. The continual changes that we see in support of the LGBTQIA+ community across the UK reaffirm that it’s increasingly safe to be the true you.
I would like to see more clubs and centres visually demonstrating their aspiration to be as inclusive as possible in ways they feel comfortable, for example displaying a progressive flag. These aren’t tokenism gestures, they send a clear message that ‘We recognise LGBTQIA+ people here and you're welcome.’ The language that is used on club websites, adverts, and leaflets are also indicative – those first impressions make a huge difference. Clubs and centres can become better supported and more relevant by asking their local communities, beyond their existing membership, what would make them feel welcome and listen to what they have to say. Inclusivity is not just about words or flags, but about how you make people feel.
If someone is reading this who is LGBTQIA+ and is considering joining a club or centre I would say that you are supported, the RYA is listening, and they want everyone to feel safe to be themselves. Each club, centre, and association will be different, but it’s about finding the place that feels right for you, and those places are out there.