Providing a safe space for people to simply be themselves is the ethos behind Doncaster’s first social group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
Arcadia was set up by Alex Lorien who wanted to meet new friends when he moved back to Doncaster two years ago after spending years living in Manchester and London.
Alex, 35, who is gay and originally from Doncaster set up the group just two weeks ago and is planning to organise weekly meetings for the LGBT community in the town.
He said: “London has Soho, Manchester has Canal Street, two of the most popular LGBT places to go. I spent years working and socialising in these areas and had access to loads of groups because the LGBT population is so prevalent in these places and more out in the open, everything is catered for there was even a lesbian knitting circle, so when I came back to Doncaster it was such a shock that there was no LGBT social group.
“Doncaster Pride last year was brilliant, loads of people turned out despite it pouring down with rain which made me think Doncaster must have a good LGBT community.
“I wanted to make more friends and find a safe space where people from the LGBT community could get together, chat and socialise. I spent time looking for a group and couldn’t find one in Doncaster so decided to set one up.
“Gay pride is fantastic and the organisers behind it are but I wanted a group where people could meet up face to face, express themselves, an organisation that is completely shaped by its’ members through weekly meetings and links with other groups.”
Alex who worked as a nurse and is now volunteering at Aspire Drug and Alcohol Services said he sees a lot of people accessing the service who are struggling with their sexuality.
He added: “I had my own problems with alcohol, it’s not something I’m ashamed of I overcame it with the help of wonderful services.
“Since working at Aspire I have found that a lot people coming through are members of the LGBT community. A lot of times problems can stem from their sexuality especially in places like Doncaster where there isn’t a gay scene as such or gay bars to make it feel normal, it can be very isolating and a lot of people turn to drugs and drink to try and forget those feelings of loneliness.
“With Arcadia I hope it will provide a place for people to be among their own kind, that may makes it sound too inclusive but I want people to feel like what they are is normal and OK, it’s OK to be gay, it’s OK to be lesbian and it’s OK to feel like you’re in the wrong body there will be people out there who are the same and will support you or be at the end of the phone. You may be having a bad time but you know that week you can go along to an Arcadia meeting and talk about it.”
Alex has experienced prejudices first hand and wants to make sure Arcadia becomes a community where people can feel safe to be themselves.
He added: “I think it’s getting a lot better and Doncaster Pride is testament to that but I think we still have a long way to go.
“I’ve experienced name calling, it’s few and far between but it does happen, I don’t let it affect me in a negative way but it does make me feel sad and disappointed. “Comments and negative reactions can really affect people who are vulnerable and knock their confidence that’s why it’s so important people have a place where they feel accepted.
“I know a 17-year-old who is looking to do a full transition, the only place he has to dress like he wants and be himself is his bedroom and that’s not OK. Doncaster has got LGBT population and it needs a group like this, it doesn’t have to be a massive group, it doesn’t have to have a political stance just a stance of inclusion and respect, a safe space where people can come along and feel comfortable and feel supported.”
n The first Arcadia meeting takes place at The Leopard, West Street April 4 6pm to 9pm. To find out more contact Alex 0775 974 0377, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.donnyarcadia.co.uk