A new regular Chichester LGBT support meeting is being launched – the first-ever in the city centre.
Melissa Hamilton, who came out as trans last October, is joining forces with Chichester cabaret and nostalgia performer Dawn Gracie to offer the first in a series of get-togethers which they hope will expand to other venues as Chichester becomes a fully ‘LGBT friendly’ city.
The new Chichester LGBT group makes its debut at The Vestry from 6.30pm on Monday.
“All we need is just one other person,” says Melissa, who used to be Mark. “I don’t know what to expect. We might get ten people. We might get 100 people. It doesn’t matter. You have just got to start somewhere.”
Melissa will be looking to get a bouncer on the door but is not anticipating any hostility for an event which is aimed at developing a strong sense of community and allowing LGBT people in the area to share their experiences, explore issues and learn from each other.
Born a man, Melissa says she suffered bullying at school. She was mocked for being gay: “But I didn’t know what I was, whether I was gay or straight or trans. But I had always dressed up in my mum’s clothes so that side of me was always there. But there was no one really speaking about trans 20 years ago.
“There was a lot less visibility, I guess. I just started my life-long cross-dressing at home.”
Melissa went on to battle addiction: “I have gone through different phases of trying to block it out, but going to Narcotics Anonymous made me focus on what it was I was blocking out.”
Then she realised – last October: “I was crying my eyes out when I messaged Dawn. I said to her ‘I think I am trans.’
“I am feeling like I want to go all the way but there is just no support group for the over-21s in Chichester.”
Support in the city exists in educational environments but at the age of 33, Melissa, who lives in East Wittering, felt she was out on her own: “I was struggling to find any support without having to go to Brighton or Portsmouth.
“A lot of people were just saying ‘Go to Brighton!’ but I got fed up with that.”
As Dawn says: “Chichester should be doing better.”
That’s why they are setting up the group. Dawn gets members of the LGBT community going along to her Chichester Cabaret Club: “So many people were saying how good it was to go to places where they can hold hands without it being odd.
“The Cabaret Club has achieved an underground safe-space status.”
Dawn and Melissa agreed Chichester needed to go further, especially in terms of sharing experiences in a proper community setting.
Melissa said: “I don’t need to take drugs now. I can just be myself every day.
“I will always be an addict. You can never say never. But I am in a very good place now.”
Monday’s meeting will be on a ‘just turn up’ basis.