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Bristol’s oldest LGBT youth group is celebrating 25 years of helping the LGBT+ community.
Freedom Youth began on 4 July 1995, at a time when attitudes towards LGBT people in society were generally less tolerant than today.
“I’m so proud of what we have achieved, it’s phenomenal this community has nurtured so many others,” said team manager Henry Poultney.
“The environment for young LGBT people in the UK still remains a challenge.”
Freedom Youth faced stiff opposition and negative national media coverage when it began.
“‘Gay barbecues to burn lottery cash’ was the Daily Mail headline after we were given National Lottery money in June 1996 to fund social events,” said co-founder Berkeley Wilde.
“It was almost impossible to do work with schools because of Section 28.”
Section 28 was part of a 1988 law which prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities” to younger people.
“We used to have letters in the paper against us, homophobic tirades complaining that we had funding.
“People said we were abnormal, but in those days you had to stand up and be counted,” said former chair Lesley Mansell, who held the role for five years.
Henry said the group’s focus had changed over 25 years.
“In the 1990s there was a lot of bisexuality erasure, then in the early 2000s trans issues came in.
“The last eight years for us have been around the ‘plus’ – so working with wider gender and sexual identities.
Despite growing up in the age of the internet, current attendees have said the group experience helps.
“Having access to the internet helped me figure out I was queer, but it was the group that made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” said Lowie, 22, from Bristol.
“I’m always welcome and there’s a great sense of family,” said 23-year-old Molly.