I am very honoured to have been appointed as CEO at SAYiT. I have worked with LGBT+ groups, campaigns and projects in Sheffield for the past two decades, and more broadly with youth, women’s, equality and social justice organisations. I have worked closely alongside SAYiT in these roles seeing the great work they have done and been pleased to see the charity grow from strength to strength in recent years. I joined SAYiT a little over a year ago, joining the Call It Out project working to improve access to mainstream services across South Yorkshire for LGBT+ people who have experienced Domestic Abuse. Working with SAYiT for the past year I have seen the range of work the charity has been involved in, in addition to our regular youth groups, the work done with schools and colleges, specific SEND focussed work, supporting parents and carers, providing training, and running community events including BAMER Pride and IDAHoBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia) to name but a few.

As a young person I attended a LGBT+ youth group which I later went on to volunteer and subsequently work for so have first-hand experience of how invaluable this support is. Throughout my professional career I have championed LGBT+ equality and inclusion in settings across the voluntary and charitable sector, as well as within statutory bodies. Throughout this work I have developed strong relationships with local organisations and communities which I hope to further develop in my role as CEO. With a varied background in supporting people from vulnerable and marginalised communities I am consciously aware of those facing multiple marginalisation and the need for us to take an intersectional approach to our work to meet the needs of our young people.

Recent months have seen us all face challenges and adapting our ways of working due to the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside which we are living in increasingly challenging times for young LGBT+ people and seeing unprecedented attacks on LGBT+, and specifically trans and non-binary rights and I believe the work of the charity is more important now than ever.

“I believe the work of the charity is more important now than ever”

We have seen how the current crisis has further impacted the mental health of the young people we support, as access to social support and spaces where young people can be out and free to be themselves in a safe and welcoming environment have been unavailable. Many young people have faced shutdown in spaces where they do not feel safe or comfortable to be out, forcing them back into the closet. SAYiT have been able to continue to offer invaluable remote support to our young people during this period, but we are aware that not everyone is able to access this and it is not a substitute for face to face engagement and support. Through my work with the Call It Out project we are also aware of the increase in reports of domestic abuse which also disproportionately affect LGBT+ people.

However, the current focus on LGBT+ issues also provides opportunities for us to have discussions, educate people and promote equality and while it may feel difficult at the moment, we also remind ourselves that we have advances to celebrate including the introduction of LGBT+ inclusive relationships and sex education in schools commencing this September. SAYiT have worked hard to support and champion the rights of young LGBT+ people and those living with HIV for the past 20 years and I feel excited to take up this new role building on SAYiT’s successes. I am glad to have the support of a passionate, dedicated team and look forward to meeting with partners, colleagues and funders over the coming weeks and months as we continue our work into the future.

Heather Paterson
CEO, SAYiT

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