story 13 June 2024

Pride Month: Q&A with James

James is transgender and says the DofE became a ‘safe’ place for him as he battled depression, low mood and social anxiety through his late teens. His three-year DofE experience helped him build his confidence, realise his own potential and, vitally, be himself.


1. How can the DofE be a safe, inclusive environment for all young people? What is your experience of this?

My experience of DofE was that it was somewhere that I didn’t have to constantly explain my life to other people. My DofE Leader was a huge part of this – they sat down and had a chat with me from the beginning and we talked about what I was or wasn’t comfortable with.

Quite often in school I’d be faced with situations where I was seen to be the one who needed to educate other people on LGBTQ+ issues. Sometimes teachers would turn to me and make it my responsibility to answer people’s questions or lead conversations.

My DofE Leader handled all of this, they made it a safe environment for me and if there were any difficulties, they had the confidence and knowledge to be able to deal with situations. They didn’t offload that onto me, and their priority was always to make sure the young people had a positive experience.

or my expedition in particular, my thoughts and feelings were always taken into consideration. We’d sit down and discuss my options together – it felt collaborative. For my Bronze and Silver I was fortunate enough that my walking group was also my friendship group, so it was a safe and comfortable option.

For Gold, it was harder because we joined with other schools and so it pushed me out of my comfort zone. But the team around me, including the DofE assessor, were really supportive. Things like asking which pronouns I was comfortable with or making them aware of my preferred name as I hadn’t officially changed it by that point. They didn’t make any assumptions, they showed they understood me, respected me and would listen to me.

I think the most important thing for creating a safe, inclusive environment is to understand the other person’s perspective and point of view. Not erasing people’s experiences but understanding where they’re coming from. A lot of that comes with education, and I think offering training around inclusion – not just for LGBTQ+ young people but for a whole range of different reasons – disabilities, deaf awareness, autism, can help combat any ignorance in this area.

It’s important that leaders have the tools to be able to create that safe environment, so they can handle situations where there might be difficulties. To be able to sit down with a young person and see what they can do to help them navigate through any challenges. Working on being more inclusive is a tool of good practice, and it’s a really positive thing.

“It’s important for me that people understand that just because I identify differently to them, I’m still a team player. I don’t need to be discounted from certain experiences, I’m not a limitation or a hinderance.”

2. What would you say to young people in the LGBTQ+ community considering starting their DofE Award?

We’re currently in a situation where the LGBTQ+ community is facing a lot of backlash and uncertainty, and there is a lot of fear over how safe they are. What I’d say is that the DofE is a space where you don’t need to worry, you don’t need to be someone you’re not, you don’t need to work 10 times harder than anyone else to get to the same position. For the best reasons, DofE doesn’t bat an eyelid on your background or ability. It doesn’t ask you “why are you here?” but instead it asks “what can we do to help?” DofE will give you support and encouragement, it will guarantee certainty and a safe space for you.

From my experience, as an organisation DofE is always opening up these conversations and constantly wanting to know more and do better. There is an eagerness to learn and this gives me the confidence to recommend DofE to young people in the LGBTQ+ community because I can confidently say, “this will be a good fit for you.”

3. Why is it important that everyone feels included, accepted and celebrated for who they are?

Without DofE being an inclusive environment, I more than likely wouldn’t have taken part. I think the message I always got from DofE is that anyone can do this, absolutely anyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, there isn’t room for cliques in this space, you leave all of that behind.

From a social aspect it was difficult at times because I knew I’d be working with people I hadn’t worked with before, but knowing it was a safe and inclusive space gave me the confidence to go into these new situations. I kept reminding myself that DofE was open to absolutely everyone, and that’s something that really kept me going.

If it hadn’t been for that safe environment, I don’t think I’d have progressed to Silver and especially not to Gold, as Gold was the one where I really went out on a limb as we partnered with new schools. I think it’s important that all young people know that it can really change your experience of the world, and there are people there to support you through your Award, not just physically but mentally. I now volunteer with the army cadets and when I’m encouraging them to start their Awards I always say, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are, if you’re a kind person we will encourage you to get through your DofE Award, no matter what.

“The message I always got from DofE is that anyone can do this, absolutely anyone.”

4. Since doing your Gold Award – where are you now?

I’m now studying law at Strathclyde University, alongside working at a care home and supporting the DofE at my local army cadet force. I’ve been involved in the cadets for a while and now I’m there to encourage them to get involved in DofE and support them through their Awards. It’s good to see how much they enjoy it.

I’m a much stronger advocate for the DofE after going through my Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards because I can appreciate the benefit of it. When I first applied to college, I applied for a course that was a level below because I didn’t think I’d get the grades for the one I wanted. In my interview, I spent the entire time talking about DofE, and after this conversation the curriculum lead gave me an unconditional offer for the course above because she could see I was so confident in the way I spoke about the DofE and how passionate I was about it. When I’m encouraging others to start their DofE I’ll always tell them this story and say it’s not just amazing on your CV but it can change your life – “trust me, it’s fine, you can do this.”

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