‘Rural areas struggle to accept people being gay’

A new group aimed at helping members of the gay community in rural west Oxfordshire is needed ‘more now than ever’, according to one of its co-founders.

West Oxfordshire LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning), believed to be the first group of its kind in the district, was co-founded over the summer by a 19-year-old man from Leafield and a district councillor.

Teenager Jake Acock believes gay people are tolerated in modern Britain but that it would be a ‘long time’ before the community is accepted.

He said: “We need it [the group] more now than ever. Since Brexit, hate crime has risen and homophobic issues have come back.

“More and more people are feeling they’re not welcome here. We have got to counter that one way or another and this is one way of doing it.”

Figures released by Thames Valley Police in July showed that reports of racist and homophobic incidents increased in Oxford by more than 40 per cent last year.

The group was formed just over a month ago after discussions between Mr Acock and Liberal Democrat district councillor Andy Graham.

Mr Acock, who acted as Cllr Graham’s election agent and manager for the county council elections in May, recently came out to his parents.

He said they were very supportive and that he wanted to use the experience to help others struggling with their sexuality.

He said: “We are there to support people. We’ve have had some really positive responses so far. It’s really important to help people come out and be proud of who they are – once you can do that you can achieve greatness.”

Mr Acock’s motivation to set up the group came after a previous boyfriend in the area came out to his parents only to be rejected by them and offered psychotherapy.

This led Mr Acock, who is off to study history at King’s College London, to believe there is something different about LGBTQ experiences in rural locations. He said: “Rural areas are very different because farming communities are very straight communities. You are not seen as gay and it’s something you should never talk about.”

The first group’s first meeting was in Chipping Norton on Monday and will travel around the district each month.

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