An Interview with New AKT Patron Jake Graf Why have you chosen to become a Patron of AKT and why do you think their work is still so important today? It’s a huge honour to be a patron for AKT – with more trans people in the media a lot of young trans people are finding the strength and courage to come out. However because of that it does mean that a lot more young people are being kicked out of home. For me to be able to be a trans male voice when there are so few is a great honour. When you see a charity like AKT who are very small but doing so much good and often being a beacon of light to the young people who need it – it’s so great to be involved and it’s a role that I take very seriously. Does it surprise you that homelessness is still such a problem for young LGBT people especially when we are constantly being told how accepting and tolerant Britain is today? The younger generation are more accepting however having worked with a lot of young trans people I’m always hearing that almost all of them are being bullied, having friends turned against them, comments from teachers and being outed at school. Despite non-binary and gender fluidity being accepted there still are a large number of people being targeted via cyber bullying. Knowing what goes on in schools it comes as no surprise to me that young people face rejection at home under the guise of religion, culture or stigma and they are thrown out onto the street because they had the bravery to come out and tell them who they actually are. Why do you care so much about this issue – is this something you have experienced yourself? I went to a French school in London which is notorious for bullying. I was bullied from a very young age because I always presented as male as possible. I would get bullied for going to the boy’s loos and the girl’s loos and at school I was always different. I was the weird kid in a sea of kids who had never seen anyone like me before. When I entered puberty I really stuck out as all the girls were growing their hair and wearing make up with pretty dresses and short skirts and I didn’t want to do any of that. I knew very much that I was male and I felt incredibly uncomfortable being made to use the girls changing rooms and playing on the girls sports teams. The other kids would call me names which was very hurtful when all you want to do is fit in. When I was 16 I came out as a lesbian but I still knew that wasn’t me. It wasn’t until around the age of 25 I was able to identify as trans. What happened when you came out to your family as trans? Was there any moment where you thought you might find yourself homeless? My father died when I was younger and it was just my mom and my younger sister. I had already come out to my mom when I was 19 as a lesbian. I was very worried about her reaction and I was concerned that she would stop loving me. However I was very lucky as after telling her she reassured me that she just wanted me to be happy. The 9 years later when I came out as a trans man again she was supportive and she helped me out. This makes me realise how incredibly lucky and privileged I am to have that level of support. This encouraged me to find my voice within the trans community as trans male representation is so low. There is so much work to be done around visibility as still so many people have just judgements because they don’t understand trans people because a lot of people have ever met another trans person before. Do you think that sometimes it’s easy for those lucky enough to have comfortable lives as out LGBT people to forget how difficult life can be for these young people? Absolutely – I’ve always lived in London. My father worked in the film industry so I met a lot of gay people growing up which gave me exposure to the LGBT world. Almost daily I receive messages on social media from people all over the world in countries such as Pakistan and Lebanon saying ‘please help me – I know that I am trans but I can’t tell my family as I know they won’t help me’. These people are absolutely terrified of what is going to happen because they can’t be themselves. The same goes for the UK – there’s still areas where being LGBT still has a huge stigma attached in terms of worrying about being judged or if their lives will be as productive or happy if they come out. There is a lot going on out there that we don’t see or hear about. That’s why a charity like The Albert Kennedy Trust is so great to try and make sure that these young people don’t slip through the cracks and go unnoticed. What advice would you give to a young person who is about to come out as trans to his or her family but they are worried that the family will not accept their gender identity? I always say that I would be very wary of telling a young person what to do in terms of coming out because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the outcome. I think it’s incredibly brave of those kids who do come out but I do know that it can often turn bad very quickly. What I would say is – try and make sure you have got a good support network, try and make sure you have friends that can be there and be supportive when things go wrong, find local youth groups and online support groups and networks. If unfortunately your parents can’t accept you then just know that there are other people out there who will accept you. Know that you will find your tribe and that you will find people like you. Things will get better. As much as it is really brave to come out at a young age just make sure that you have that support network and that you’ll be safe no matter what happens. Homelessness can very challenges for those that identify as LGBT+ particularly for those within the trans community as it can often interrupt their transition. Do you think that this is one of the reasons why we need specific LGBT focused homelessness services that are staffed by people who understand the needs of our community? Absolutely – homeless LGBT people can often find themselves in environments where people don’t understand them and they can find themselves being ostracised or bullied all over again. So it’s really important to have a charity like AKT where a lot of the people who work there are LGBT. This is really important when you’re feeling so lost and so lonely. It’s important to have people who understand what you’re going through around you. Transitioning is hard enough as it is so mixing that with homelessness to me sounds absolutely nightmarish. What are you hoping to achieve in your role as patron at AKT? Any area I can help in – I will! However there are very few trans male role models out there because historically it’s always been the trans women at the forefront of our battles. So just to start if I could just be a positive male role model by going out there, speaking and being visible to give hope to the younger generation. My biggest fear about transitioning is that I would be alone and that I wouldn’t find love and my wife felt the same. So if I can just give hope to someone that they will find love and support then that would be a huge honour and something that I would be really proud to have done.