Lily-Rose's Story: ‘As a trans-woman, St. James’ Park is one of my safe spaces’

Being trans is still a safety concern for me on a daily basis, which is why I have my safe spaces that I know well and that are familiar to me – like my church and, of course, St. James’ Park.

On Transgender Day of Visibility, Newcastle United Foundation is sharing Lily-Rose's journey to better mental health through support from the charity's Be A Game Changer project and campaign champions, United With Pride.

### By Lily-Rose

When I was around 19, I left my family home in the Midlands and moved to Newcastle for university. I remember it was New Year’s Day 2015 and I was wandering around town, not realising that everything – all the shops and cafes – would be closed for the bank holiday.

But then I stumbled across St. James’ Park and got chatting to a programme seller. I asked if there were any jobs going and, long story short, I ended up becoming a programme seller almost right away!

Becoming part of the Newcastle United community

I made some great friends through my new job at Newcastle United, but I was really nervous about being out as trans, so I tried to hide it at first – even though I was out in my life more generally including at university.

Plus, I had been physically attacked as a student because of who I am, so I was really worried about how bad the transphobia might be in the football community.

When you’re trans and you’re met with the sight of 50,000 people in a stadium, all chanting, you can really worry about whether the chants could turn into something transphobic at any moment.

Thankfully, it’s never happened, but I was really anxious about it in my early days of watching football.

However, when lockdown hit, I was starting hormones, so it made sense to return to work after the period of closure as the person I truly was.

I’d also reached out to the United with Pride group and I’d seen a lot about the Foundation’s Be A Game Changer campaign and the mental health support on offer so I felt much safer after that.

Spending my time at St. James’ Park is bittersweet in some ways. It’s definitely one of my safe spaces, but it also triggers traumatic memories of a friend I was supporting who was really struggling with their mental health.

They were often suicidal and at crisis point and, as both their friend and carer, it hit me more than I ever imagined it could.

So, because we were always at the match together, I do struggle with the reminders of the trauma sometimes.

But I also know that I feel safe at St James’ and that I have a community and colleagues who support me. Overall, it’s a really positive place for me.

Carers need support too

I think it’s easy to focus only on the person who is really unwell and forget that supporting someone can really affect the carer as well – especially as I had struggled with my own mental health in the past.

I noticed that I was struggling with motivation and looking after myself, and these were signs of poor mental health that I’d previously experienced at university. I was also experiencing panic attacks which was really difficult.

As a carer, I was struggling silently with my own problems and trying to put on a brave face but it really took its toll. On reflection, I should have made sure I had somebody to talk to as well.

I’m doing better these days. There are still tough days and times where I’m feeling really down. But I’ve learnt how to manage things and how to get through and there are friends I can call on to support me.

Finding my safe spaces

Being trans is still a safety concern for me on a daily basis, which is why I have my safe spaces that I know well and that are familiar to me – like my church (Northern Lights MCC) and, of course, St. James’ Park.

In fact, I was recently chatting with somebody from United With Pride and I told them that I found them at exactly the right time.

I honestly don’t think I’d be as physically or mentally strong today if I hadn’t found that community and the Be A Game Changer guys within it. It gives me more positive things to focus on – including the football.

Being visible in the LGBT community is really important to me. It helps me feel like I’m part of a community and hopefully in speaking out it will help others too.

I know that feeling safer, less alone and less ashamed is so important for my mental health too.

Be A Game Changer is Newcastle United Foundation’s mental health awareness campaign providing advice on mental wellness and signposts to support with the ultimate aim to reduce suicide rates in the North East and eradicate stigmas surrounding mental health matters.

United with Pride – the club’s official LGBTQ+ supporters’ group – announced during their AGM held at St. James’ Park during LGBT History Month in February that they would be working with the Foundation to encourage all supporters to talk openly about mental health.

For more information about the Foundation and programmes near you, follow Newcastle United Foundation on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter for regular news and updates.

Be A Game Changer

Our award-winning mental health awareness campaign Be A Game Changer provides peer support opportunities for our entire community.

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