John Whaite: Allyship has the power to change the course of history

At a family barbecue recently – a place you would pray to feel most safe in life – we were chatting about Pride and the forthcoming LGBT awards. A member of my clan asked me ‘why don’t we have a Straight awards?’. 

Knowing this person, I knew they meant it sarcastically – as if to take the mick out of the bigoted folk who do indeed think like that – but regardless of intention, the question had the same painful effect: a punch to the stomach. 

It’s a question I have indeed battled with over the years. In my coming out story, I’ll go into further detail about the shame I felt – as most queer people do – which can lead to an internalised homophobia, even as an openly gay man. But in recent years I think I’ve worked out the answer to why we have Pride and ceremonies such as the LGBT and Attitude awards, in the absence of hetro alternatives. 

I feel it boils down to justice not being the same as equality. Of course, in a utopian universe we would all be equal. We’d have equal access to education, equal rights, equal treatment in the workplace. Equality is the aim. But what has occurred to queer people in past years – who am I kidding? What is still happening to queer people across the world – is persecution. Being treated with disregard or hostility because of our sexuality or gender is something most of us have been subjected to. Many of us still are. 

We have grinned and bared it, often sacrificing who we are to pander to the hand of abuse. That is a lack of justice. And unfortunately, injustice cannot be covered by a quick lick of the paint of equality. What must first be achieved is a remedy for the pain suffered, and that takes a lot of work, effort and acknowledgment from everyone – straight people included. 

A few years ago, when going through a mental downturn, I replied to someone on Twitter defensively. They wrote something from a feminist perspective about men being a huge problem. As a man who considers himself a feminist, I was offended. I replied with something along the lines of ‘not all men’. 

Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

MORE: Find all of Metro.co.uk’s Pride coverage right here

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

What I failed to see at that time, was that response in itself didn’t acknowledge the suffering of women at the hand of men. Had I truly considered the scenario I would have accepted that because of my birth-given gender, I have experienced some privileges as a man. And even if those privileges are passive: not being pestered on the street by a group of lads; not being touched inappropriately by a bloke too pissed to recite his own name; not being leered at in the gym by a gaggle of horned-up youths, I have nonetheless benefitted in that regard from my gender. That is a form of privilege, and it should be acknowledged. 

That’s really all it takes: for those of us who have had life a little easier from certain viewpoints to acknowledge that and use that to help those who suffer. As a man, I’ve been privileged for the reasons mentioned above. As a gay man, I’ve been bullied and beaten for my sexuality. As a white person I have had more help over certain hurdles in my life than some of my brothers and sisters of colour. 

While these are all elements of who I am as a person, it’s impossible for me to view my life from a single perspective as a polylith, because each perspective has been dependant on which part of my identity has benefitted or suffered. Accepting these facts doesn’t minimise the good I do in life, nor does it belittle me and my talents. But if I take responsibility for the privileges I’ve had, it makes room for those who haven’t. And that, I think, is the fear some people have when looking at events such as Pride: if I make room for this new life, will my life be curtailed? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. 

So, as guest entertainment editor of this special Pride edition of Metro.co.uk, I’ve had a chat with some people who are changing the landscape of entertainment, and in doing so are contributing to remedying all the years of injustice. 

I first want to give a special mention to my friend Steph McGovern, without whom I don’t think I would be in the position that I am today. After my TV career ebbed – as all TV careers do – I assumed I wouldn’t be on screen again. But Steph and her team at Steph’s Packed Lunch have forced me out of my comfort zone and have allowed me to grow as an on-screen personality. Without that exposure, there’s not a cat in hell’s chance that I would have been considered for Strictly Come Dancing, let alone as the first all-male partnership with the wonderful Johannes Radebe. But not even considering myself in all of this, what Steph and the gang have achieved is something remarkable.

The show is a hodgepodge of diversity and inclusion; the variety of opinion, race, creed, sexuality and gender that the programme showcases is something that will resound in the TV world for years to come. It’s something that will trickle down and change the course of everyday life for many. And that is all thanks to that blonde ‘Boro lass who insists that everyone who comes into her studio has their voice heard. 

Equally as warrior-like in the world of entertainment is Russell T Davies. The way Russell fearlessly strives to ensure queer representation is real and incessant is formidable. He uses his platform, talent and the well-earned respect of millions to bring subjects to light that the course of history has attempted to shroud, and in doing so gives a voice to millions. I feel very privileged to have been able to chat to him about this topic. 


What I also wanted to touch upon was something that I’ve spoken quite personally about. Something that, I feel, is inextricably linked – though of course not exclusively – with gay shame and self-loathing: body dysmorphia and eating disorders. I’ve enlisted the help of Dr. Omara Naseem, psychologist and eating disorder specialist who I am proud to say has helped, and continues to help, me in my own battle with bulimia; something that is undoubtedly tangled with my sexuality, identity and feeling of being accepted. 

For me, growing up in fear of rejection and being bullied for ‘camp’ behaviour, I soon learned that I could control certain elements of my life through frequently dyeing my hair and extreme dieting. From an early age I’d cut out carbs or restrict calories, which eventually became the frenzied cycle of bingeing and purging.

This behaviour soon became a learned response to psychological trauma – similar to the validation or fulfilment one may achieve through a sex or substance addiction – and has sadly become my default coping strategy in times of despair.

While eating disorders can affect any person on the planet, according to a 2021 study by Just Like Us, people within the LGBTQ+ community are three times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder.  

If you’re a straight person reading this and feel uneasy about this topic being exclusively Pride-oriented, please let me reassure you that you are just as welcome here. As I’ve already said, the existence of Pride is not set to minimise or curtail your existence, but rather embolden us all.

In fact, the most powerfully moving messages I received when on strictly were from straight fathers who said, ‘thank god my children can grow up in a world where two men can dance together without question’.

And at Pride parades, it’s always the ‘proud dad’ T-shirts that render me so emotionally speechless. Your allyship has the power to move mountains and change the course of history. Please don’t take that for granted. 

Help us raise £10k for Kyiv Pride and a UK LGBT+ charity

To celebrate 50 years of Pride, Metro.co.uk has teamed up with Kyiv Pride to raise money for their important work in Ukraine.

Despite war raging around them, Kyiv Pride continue to help LGBTQ+ people, offering those in need shelter, food and psychological support.

We will be splitting the cash with a grassroots charity closer to home.

You can donate here

Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

MORE: Find all of Metro.co.uk’s Pride coverage right here

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

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