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Despite our organizations name, The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is about more than earning an award – it’s about making a difference in your community, and most importantly, it’s about making a difference within yourself. By setting and achieving personal goals in Community Service, Skill Development, Physical Recreation, Adventurous Journey and Residential Project, participants surprise themselves with how much they can truly accomplish. Through each experience, and through each accomplishment, young people begin to learn who they are, all while continuing to shape their identities.

It can be hard to discover who you are, and even harder to embrace your own personal truth once you have made that discovery. More than 20% of Award participants are considered at-risk youth. These at-risk youth include members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community, who experience hatred and violence every single day. In Canada, over half of LGBTQ identified students have thought about suicide, and of those, 33% have made an attempt. Compare that to the 7% of their straight counterparts who have made such an attempt. Bullying and harassment contributes directly to low self-esteem, and can impact a young person’s chance of future happiness and success. The sad truth is, 68% of trans students, 55% of lesbian/bisexual students, and 42% of gay/bisexual students report being verbally harassed about their perceived identity or sexual orientation. Constant reminders of such hatred takes a toll on one’s mental health. Tragedies like the shooting in Orlando build fear within the community, and enable many to suffer alone in silence.

However, for every hateful act, there are more people who speak out in support of love. On Thursday May 12, 2016, His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge invited Attitude – a gay magazine based in the UK – to bring the members of the LGBTQ community to Kensington Palace. Together with the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, William is leading the Heads Together Campaign which aims to end stigma around mental health. His appearance on Attitude marks the first time a member of the Royal family has been photographed on the cover of a gay publication, and directly acknowledges the mental health risks that many members of the LGBTQ community face. Speaking out against bullying, he told the magazine,

“No one should be bullied for their sexuality or any other reason and no one should have to put up with the kind of hate that these young people have endured in their lives. The young gay, lesbian and transgender individuals I met through Attitude are truly brave to speak out and to give hope to people who are going through terrible bullying right now.”

His main message was this: “You should be proud of the person you are, and you have nothing to be ashamed of.”

The Duke of Cambridge isn’t the only one speaking out in support of the LGBTQ community. Canada’s own Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau spoke recently stating that “Canada is united in its defense of rights, and it's standing up for LGBTQ rights.” He is set to become the first Prime Minister in Canadian history to march in the Pride parade this weekend.

We here at the Duke of Ed want to remind our LGBTQ youth that you are not alone and you are valued. 87% of participants felt more confident in themselves as a result of The Award, because it allowed them to channel their adversaries into activities that boost self-esteem. Leaders like the Duke of Cambridge and Prime Minister Trudeau are a reminder that while the world can be a scary and hateful place, there are always more people who are spreading love. The Award helps to foster that love and hope into the next generation of leaders who are needed in our communities.

If you or someone you love are experiencing a crisis, or are just looking for someone to talk to, Youthline is an organization that exists to provide service for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and questioning youth. You can contact them toll free at 1-800-268-9688, or send them a text at 647-694-4275.