With Worthing Pride upon us, four students at Northbrook College have shared their coming out stories.
The second event takes place on Saturday, starting with the promenade parade at 12pm.
Northbrook College has been a big supporter, with students performing at the main event in Beach House Grounds and the college having its own stall.
Our reporter spoke to four students about their coming out stories, and how the internet and social media has shaped their lives.
Eden Pailthorpe-Peart, 17, is a fashion design student from Worthing. She identifies as bisexual and pansexual, which means she is attracted to people regardless of their gender.
She said she knew she was ‘bi’ since she was seven, but in Year 9 the Durrington High School student started getting feelings for a girl in Year 10 and decided she wanted to be openly in a relationship with her.
But because Eden was already bullied a bit, she thought it would add ‘fuel to the fire’, so she used social media to her advantage when she came out.
She said: “I waited until the very first day of the summer holidays and posted on Snapchat ‘I’m bi, deal with it’ basically, so that I knew everyone would talk about it over the holidays and by the time we went back to school, no-one would be talking about it any more.”
And her plan worked: she said most pupils were supportive, and in her final years of school friends would come to her for advice about coming to terms with their own sexuality. One of her biggest inspirations was a school friend who came out as transgender.
She said: “It felt like lifting a massive weight off my shoulders."
Before she came out, social media played an important role in how she processed her feelings.
On Instagram, Eden discovered a group on Instagram made by Durrington High School students, where about 20 pupils who were questioning their sexuality and gender identity would create an anonymous account and message each other about their issues.
Eden said she helped a student who presented as female but identified as non-binary, which means they do not identify as either male or female on the gender spectrum.
“They said they wanted to be a guy, and dress up in drag [as a woman],” Eden said, adding that the student said they felt confused.
“I said: it’s okay, you don’t need to label things right now. We are still young.
“I still don’t know who they are to this day.”
There was one group of people that Eden had to come out to ‘offline’: her family.
Thankfully, they were very supportive, with the teenager jokingly describing it as ‘kind of boring’.
She said: “When I told my mum, she said “Come on now, I’ve got four kids and you and your brother are the most likely to be bi.
“And my brother did come out as bi too!”
Allyshia Vallier, 18, is a music performance student from Mile Oak, and identifies as a lesbian who is still figuring out her gender identity.
In Year 8, she came out as bisexual on Instagram. At a sleepover the night before Brighton Pride, her then-friends pressured her into coming out to her mother, she said: “I texted her this long message, more of apology. I felt so scared of being who I was.
“She asked me to come home and I freaked out. I never went back that night.”
Despite her mum working in a sexual health clinic and taking her to pride events, Allyshia said she still feared her reaction.
But when the teenager finally saw her mum the next day, she was relieved by her response: “She gave me a massive hug and said I will love you no matter what.”
Allyshia said her first relationships were online, with girls she met through Instagram. They lived in countries such as Wales and Slovakia - and most of them had suicidal tendencies and mental health issues.
“I regret those relationships,” Allyshia said. “I felt like they got so dependent on me that they only liked me because I was helping them.
“What I thought was love wasn’t love; it was just a strange friendship.”
Allyshia is now in a relationship with her girlfriend, who is bisexual, after seeing her around college and plucking up the courage to follow her on Instagram and message her.
The couple are physically different; with her short, dyed hair and piercings, Allyshia said she was ‘more stereotypically gay’ than her partner.
Walking around Worthing, she said she still felt judgement from the public.
“I hear people saying things behind me when I’m with her, and I drop her hand,” Allyshia said. “I feel bad because she wants us to be proud.”
While she was more secure with her sexual identity, the drummer was still figuring out her gender.
“I came out as gender fluid, trans and non-binary, but none of them stuck for me,” she said.
Transgender describes someone whose gender identity differs from the gender identity given at birth. A gender fluid person does not see themselves as having a fixed gender, and non-binary means they see their gender outside the labels of ‘male’ or ‘female’.
Allyshia said that ‘coming out to yourself’ was the most important of all: “I struggle to accept that to this day. My whole life I have been gay, but no matter how supportive your friends and family are, you have to support yourself.”
Alex Young, 24, studies degree-level music production and is from Bognor Regis.
Because he is mildly autistic, Alex said he had no problem coming to terms with his sexuality growing up.
He explained: “I thought everyone is like I am, and that every guy felt this way about other guys to a certain extent.
“It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised not everyone feels attracted to men.
“I never had an internal struggle about it, because I never comprehended how other people would see it.”
He said that although he was ‘kind of bi’ because he was physically attracted to men and women, he identified more as gay because he only had romantic feelings towards men.
However, many people assumed the electronic music fan was straight due to his appearance and tastes.
“I don’t feel like I fit in the community,” he said. “I’m not stereotypically gay; I’m not flamboyant or listen to pop music, for example.”
Those people included his father, who Alex said had found it difficult to accept his sexuality.
“He thinks I’m confused, not bi,” he said.
“It would be easier if I was completely gay because you don’t have that element of ‘you’re not sure’.”
Alex has been in a long distance relationship since 2017 with a man in London he met online. He said he also had a ‘ridiculous amount of queer friends online’ that he had met through the gaming community and chat rooms such as Discord.
“Online, it feels like being bi or homo is the norm,” he said. “I have to remind myself that that it isn’t the case in the real world.”
Alex said he found it much harder to come to terms with being autistic than being in the LGBT+ community.
“Three years ago, I would never even bring this up; I was deeply ashamed of it", he said.
“It is much like how some people feel when they are LGBT - because it is not the norm.”
Now, he is learning to embrace it: “I can’t change either part of me. It is who I am.”
Kamil Blasiak, 19, is a Level 3 Acting student from Bognor Regis.
Born in Poland, he moved to the UK aged 7 in 2007 and realised he was gay aged 15.
But scared of his parents’ reaction, he lived in denial.
He said: “I always used to say I will never come out, ever. I will just be in my shell.
“But then I met my boyfriend in 2018.
“That was hard, because he was out and I wasn’t, and I started questioning myself, saying ‘do I tell my parents or not?’”
The opportunity arose when his mother sat Kamil down and asked if ‘there was something different about him’.
Although he initially denied it, he decided to tell her the truth after encouragement from his boyfriend.
But her reaction was not what Kamil hoped to hear, and he believed was rooted in the deeply Catholic culture in Poland.
Despite his grandmother saying she ‘would love him no matter what’, he described home life with his parents as ‘really tough’ from then on.
“They would say stuff like: ‘How can you be with a guy? Is that normal to you?’”, he said.
One night, while his parents were hosting a party downstairs, Kamil wrote a two-page letter to them that he left on his bedside. He threw his clothes out of the window and ran away to live with his boyfriend in Steyning, cutting communication with his family.
A few months later, Kamil decided he would spend Christmas with them, and they had bought his partner a present - a gesture he said ‘shocked him’.
But things did not improve, and after splitting with his partner Kamil was forced to move back in with his parents.
He said his relationship with them was okay at the moment, which he attributed to the fact that he was single.
But he added: “The reason I chose to do this coming out story is because I don’t want someone else to be going through the same thing.
“I don’t care what they say anymore. I am what I am; why should I change for someone else?”