James Thomas - Proud to Be

Proud to be different has been my mantra in life even from an early age but, embracing difference was a challenge to start with in a world where being ‘normal’ (whatever this means) was the encouraged path. In today’s world it’s great to see how difference is now actively championed, reflecting our rich, diverse society.

I am a proud gay man born in the West Midlands and one of seven children, with my brothers and sisters being from my parents’ previous marriages. My father an industrial cleaner and my mom, a great mathematician, both from a small housing estate on the outskirts of Birmingham. My auntie still lives on the estate with a community she has known for 75 years. I live in East Sussex with my husband and our dog and enjoy life by the seaside in the simplest way.

I was very fortunate as a child to have a good education, a Catholic upbringing, which was my choice aged 12. Up until that point in my life I was bullied. I chose a religious school in the hope religion would encourage people to be kinder to others and this was a good decision. My early education and learning were formed around my love for drawing and art, which regardless of the subject, I always managed to turn into a creative production. This was very much noticed by my parents and my siblings who encouraged this from an early age, and as a quiet child, I was able to immerse myself into the world of art and design, drawing people, houses and creating worlds in sandpits or nearby forests.

As I grew into adult life I found joy in fashion and in music; inspired to express myself in bolder and more colourful ways, I choose design as an area to study. I surrounded myself with wonderful friends, many of whom I am still in contact with. It is this part of my life that paved the way for my success in retail and hospitality as a Design and Brand Marketing Specialist, focussing on the customer and end user of products. It has been a 20 + year career so far, working with incredible retail brands such as Selfridges, Topshop and Urban Outfitters and top designers and photographers, watching, listening and always learning.

At 46 I chose to share my skills and knowledge alongside my lived experience, to work with organisations and charities and re-balance my work and life. I was aware of the great work the team at St Michael’s Hospice achieve and the support they give to people they care for both in the Hospice, and in the community, which is just incredible. I knew from my first visit I wanted to share my skills and hoped they would share theirs with me also.

My role as a Trustee is about just that, a sharing of experiences we hope will go towards benefitting everyone who encounters the Hospice. For me, the Hospice is about embracing difference, supporting each other at a moment in time where things can be a struggle. The support and services go hand in hand with real compassion for the community and it is delivered with real integrity.

When I look back on my lived experience as a gay man, I wish in many ways that in the 80s and 90s there was more support for the LGBT+ community, especially when it comes to wellbeing and mental health. Many of my friends from an older LGBT+ community didn’t have that support or comfort blanket and were unable to talk openly about their life as a gay person like I can. I champion the LGBT+ community and hope to encourage and create spaces for people to talk without fear of prejudice. We can all champion equality within this world by simply listening and supporting each other and St Michael’s Hospice is an organisation that truly does this.

LGBT+ History month is so important, acknowledging the past, educating for the future and ensuring we continue to champion equality, diversity, inclusion and equity within work and in our communities. I am very proud of how far my community has come and I am even more proud of the East Sussex LGBT+ community, and the difference we make to Hastings and Rother.

I am proud to be gay and I am proud to be ME.

Dedicated to my mom who died too early in life to see how happy and proud I am.

James Thomas, St Michael’s Hospice Trustee

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