Zone chats to Charl and Ash, a young Midlands couple who run their own LGBTQ+ online platform, Unite UK, and podcast, LesTalk...
Age: Charl: 22 Aislinn: 23
Location: Birmingham, but Aislinn is originally from Ireland.
Day job: Charl: Social media marketing
Ash: Chocolate scientist (real job title!)
When did you first know you were gay?
Charl: I think around 15 or 16 I realised I was different to all of my friends. In my last relationship with a guy, it just wasn't 100% for me, and I realised that these feelings I had prior were something I should consider. It then took me another four or five years to finally accept I was gay.
Ash: I first began to recognise my feelings toward girls at around 15, and luckily I never really struggled with those feelings. I'm privileged to be able to say I just accepted it as normal for me, and from the get-go I was extremely 'out and proud'. At first I thought I was into both girls and boys - it took me another couple of years to realise I was actually gay.
When and how did you come out?
Charl: I came out to everyone at 18, but it was only because I invited Aislinn over from Ireland for my 18th birthday. We met in Birmingham Airport, where I hid from her as it was like, “Oh shit, she's actually here!” I told my parents shortly afterwards, as she was staying with us, and luckily my family was super-chill.
Ash: The first people I came out to were my friends at school, at around 16. It was just in casual conversation; there was no deal made out of it and everyone was totally cool with it. During the same year, I also came out to my parents while I was drunk - I don't recommend it! - but again there were no issues; it was as if I didn't even need to declare my sexuality.
How did you both meet?
Ash: We met on a dating app called HER, but back when we met it was called Dattch! Charl popped up to me, and ever since then we haven't gone a day without speaking.
Tell us about Unite UK...
Ash: Unite UK is an online LGBTQ+ platform that talks about a range of topics. Our main aim is to show the diversity in our community worldwide and to highlight problems faced by queer people. We talk about sexuality, gender, stereotypes, sexualisation of lesbians, gender norms and so much more. Today, Unite has turned into a mini online family. It's amazing to see our community come together to address pressing topics and support each other through our journeys.
When did you first get the idea for it?
Charl: It was when I was first struggling with my sexuality and really wanted an outlet to talk. I came up with Unite UK. I wanted to unite our community, as there’s a lot of hate within our four walls, but also to help us come together and understand each other. Within our first few months of setting up a social media page, it was crazy that so many people felt the same.
How can people become involved with Unite UK?
Ash: There are so many ways, from guest blogging to being quoted on our social media. Basically, if you want your voice heard and have something to say, we're your girls.
How important is it to have support networks and communities for young LGBTQ+ people?
Charl: So important. I noticed a lack of LGBTQ+ representation in music, so using Unite UK, I'm now partnered with a radio show to help LGBTQ+ musicians be played globally. We need to support each other and be there for the younger generations. One thing I will always want to achieve with Unite UK is a sense of belonging. I felt so alone coming out, and if I can help just one person feel a part of something, my job is done.
What are your future plans for the project?
Charl: Realistically, we want to become an online platform that people go to when they need help. We're going to start workshops and have online forums. The possibilities are endless; we never want to limit ourselves. There’s been a rise in homophobic abuse and attacks in the UK. Have you ever had any personal experiences of homophobic abuse?
Ash: Yes, sadly. As femme lesbians, online/offline we experience extreme sexualisation. Men in the street have asked us for threesomes and which sex toys we use. People online offer us money to send videos, and the amount of explicit pictures we've received is sickening. We are so thankful we have ‘equal’ rights, but in 2019 we would never hold hands in public, just because of who might be around.
I dread to think what it's like for the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, as we’re just a small percentage. I’ve witnessed transphobic attacks and stepped in when possible. Homophobia/transphobia is alive and kicking, and it's so important if possible to talk up about it.
What do you think needs to be done in order to tackle the issue?
Charl: Education, education, education. We need to teach all generations what it means to be LGBTQ+ and help erase ridiculous stereotypes that have formulated due to the lack of education. Just the other week, I was telling someone that queer is being reclaimed, and they were shocked. It's simple conversations that can really change attitudes and views.
Google France recently changed its algorithm for the search ‘lesbian’ to show informative results instead of pornographic content. Is this the kind of thing that needs to be implemented in order to change perceptions?
Ash: One hundred percent. Take instagram, for example - if you search the #lesbian, you’re greeted with porn, hyper-sexualised videos and accounts run by men to lure lesbian couples to interact. Sex sells, and lesbians have been used and abused with this mantra in mind. I think if we stopped showing hyper-sexualised versions of all queer women, it would help to reduce the stigma.
You have a new podcast - LesTalk…
Charl: LesTalk is something we've been sitting on for a while. It's ourselves as professional lesbians - whatever that means! - and we talk about all things LGBTQ+. In reality, it's a safe space for us to chat about topics that are upsetting us, and for LGBTQ+ members to send in questions to get advice or send in embarrassing stories. We really just want to laugh. Sometimes, even if it's the worst experience ever, laughter can help you get through it.
What made you want to do a podcast?
Ash: Charl is so impulsive. We love listening to podcasts, and one day we brought a microphone and recorded the first ever episode. The two big lesbian podcasts are in the USA, and there’s no one flying the flag here, so I guess we can say we're the first lesbian UK podcast. Don't quote us on that, though!
Who would be your dream guest on the podcast?
Charl: Definitely Cara Delevingne or Halsey!
Ash: Oh wow, that's a tough one. I'm already lucky enough to have my dream guest with me on every episode! But on a real note, I'd love to have some lesbian icons like Rosie and Rose on!
What are your long-term goals?
Long term, we'd love to be able to run the podcast full time and go on tours chatting about being lesbians, and lesbian problems. If that happens, you'll be the first to know!
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