“I’m working with Just Like Us because my experience in school was at times horrific. I went through bullying. I went through self-doubt. I went through an unbelievable amount of anxiety that was almost unbearable.”
He may be a YouTube and radio star now, but Riyadh Khalaf suffered as a child. Speaking to PinkNews after presenting LGBT+ charity Just Like Us’s School Star Awards, Riyadh said he wanted to spare others from his trauma.
“I want to do whatever I can to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore to any other kid,” he said.
Founded in 2016, Just Like Us is a charity which empowers LGBT+ youths to be themselves early on, so they can lead happy and healthy lives. The organisation has built up a network of university volunteers who receive training on how to work with children and go into secondary schools to share their own experiences being LGBT. The theory goes that by providing students with role models whose paths they can follow, they can crush stereotypes.
Over the past two years, the charity has run School Diversity Week, which schools nationwide have signed up for, raising money and awareness for LGBT education. In June last year, 250,000 teachers and pupils got involved with the charity’s endeavours, running workshops, talks, pride festivals, bake sales and non-uniform days.
The School Star Awards honoured a selected few individuals from the hundreds and thousands included that went above and beyond in tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.
Khalaf said how impressed he was with the young students who had won the awards. “I’ve been talking to 13-year-olds who have been talking to me like 25-year-old LGBT activists who have lived a life,” he said.“They have got confidence moving from every pore. It makes me smile from ear to ear because that is something I never had.
“It is a living breathing example of how the work at Just Like Us is helping the conversation for the better. It’s slow but it’s happening and more in the right direction.”
PinkNews spoke to one of these students, Beth Johnson, a student from The King’s School in Devon whose school Respect group earned the student leadership award. She said: “Our group focuses on awareness and education, trying to educate people instead of punishing them for using homophobic or transphobic slurs.”
With the help of their sex and health education teacher, Joann Elliot, the group was able to organise a cake sale, a flash mob that involved the entire school, and many other educational activities and displays.
They even taught the teachers a thing or two.
This article first appeared on PinkNews