Rhianna Betts, a second-year History student, was more than happy to pop by our office to share her volunteering story. Find out what she’s been getting up to as an LGBT ambassador, how she developed her public speaking skills, and the importance of talking about LGBT+ experiences.

Tell us about your volunteering!

I’ve been volunteering with a charity called Just Like Us from the start of this academic year as an LGBT ambassador. Just Like Us is a charity that educates and spreads awareness of LGBT + issues and being a part of that community, and how people can be more accepting.

As an ambassador, I go around to schools in London - usually to young people aged between eleven to eighteen - and deliver talks about my own experience. These talks can range from fifteen-minute talks to three-hour workshops! When I first started they gave you lots of training from official companies to help you with presentations and offer appropriate preparation and support. I felt super prepared even when it was really nerve-wracking! My first talk was at an all-boys school and they were all very young, so it was a little intimidating at first, but it went really well and the students always have a lot of questions which is good.

LGBT+ is such a monumental movement; how does it feel knowing that your story could help someone dealing with their own struggles, or destroy misconceptions and prejudices that people have toward the LGBT+ community?

Even though I’m a History student, I didn’t want to take the expected route of volunteering in a museum. One of the main reasons why I wanted to do this opportunity is that I think it’s such an amazing way to help people. Five, ten years ago, I don’t think what Just Like Us do would have even been a thing in schools. The schools that we go to are multi-ethnic and multi-religious, and lots of people have their own specific struggles with their identity. I love what I do as well as it teaches other people why they should be more accepting of the LGBT+ community.

How do you think this experience has changed you?

Public speaking for sure! I didn’t enjoy it that much, and I wanted to develop my abilities in giving talks that people are interested in. Now I feel a lot more confident, which is a great life skill!

I'm developing the skills whilst also doing something that I enjoy and it’s helping people – it’s the best of both worlds.

Because other universities in London take part in Just Like Us, I’ve met a lot of international students who have different backgrounds and stories, and you get a different perspective. Being able to talk to other volunteers and hearing their experiences and issues in the LGBT+ community that other people face has been really eye-opening. I think it also helps the people who are giving the talks, because there are ambassadors from countries where being LGBT+ isn’t legal, and so it’s incredible having these people tell their stories for the first time.

What was something that you found challenging as an ambassador but managed to overcome?

I think that creating a story of your own life can be very intimidating. Because we’re delivering these talks to young students, you have to think about what you’re saying. Some people have very big struggles and it shows the harsh reality of what people go through, but you need to make it as inspiring and as positive as possible, so that the students can take away good things from it.

Do you have any tips for people considering volunteering?

Find something that you’re passionate about! I’ve done volunteering before, but it wasn’t something that I had a lot of passionate for. It also helps if you volunteer with an organisation that is willing to help you.  In Just like us, if you are intimidated by public speaking, they’re very accommodating. There are new ambassadors who are not confident yet in their public speaking, so the Just Like Us team make sure that they’ll only let the volunteers give talks when they 100% feel ready to and watch others deliver the presentations first to get a better idea of how it goes.  

Sounds like you have such a great support network at Just Like Us!

Even the volunteering is quite flexible - Just Like Us notify you if there are any talks coming up and you sign up for the ones you want to do, which helps you prepare for talks. I’ve had people come up to me saying they’ve loved the talks and they’ve never had anything like it before! By giving these talks, it has allowed me to meet so many interesting and like-minded people and make a real difference.

If Rhianna's heart-warming story has got you inspired to volunteer with LGBT+ organisations, you can browse similar roles here!  On our Directory, you can also find other ambassador opportunities.