On a sunny afternoon in January, we caught up with identical twins Mat and Jon Price to find out why they posted an online video saying they were Proud2Be gay and set up the Proud2Be project to spread the positive message that whatever your sexuality and wherever you live, you should be proud of who you are within your community. The project has attracted support from such celebrities as Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry, who posted his own Proud2Be video.
Thank you for joining us guys. Firstly can I just say you’re the first identical twins I’ve ever interviewed.
Jon: Yeah. And the last hopefully. (evil laughter). So tell us a little interesting fact about
Mat: Oh, well, I’m the oldest brother by a whole 2 minutes. I’ve been backpacking around New Zealand and Australia working on organic farms and I play the guitar.
Jon: I play the keyboard and have travelled around South-East Asia. Oh and we’ve both travelled to San Francisco where we visited Harvey Milk’s old camera shop for a cocktail party! It was this trip that inspired the Proud2Be project.
Where were you raised?
Jon: Well we were raised In the West Midlands in a little village called Knowle, quite rural, surrounded by plenty of countryside. We spent the majority of our twenties living separate lives in different cities. It was only in the past 3 years that we really came together.
So how did you end up in South Devon?
Mat: It was quite a random move. We’d got back from our trip to San Francisco and we were thinking of going travelling again, but Proud2be was just starting to form and we wanted to commit to that for a while. It was completely random but we decided to go on a weekend away. Megabus were doing a deal so we came to Torquay and thought ‘well we don’t really want to live here’, so we got on a bus to Totnes and as soon as we got off the bus we thought right this is where we wanted to be. It was out the blue and people thought we were crazy just moving to somewhere we didn’t know, or have any friends, but actually it was moving back to a very similar set up.
Did it take long to settle into the small village life?
Jon: For the first 6 months we were without a car and so we really faced quite a lot of isolation and realised that exists not just for us but for lots of LGBT people in rural areas where they can’t access their community, they feel invisible, so that really inspired us to create opportunities for people to meet each other and to not be invisible anymore and feel that they’re valuable members of society.
Most brothers couldn’t live together but you both seem very happy. Have you always had a close bond?
Jon: We were very close growing up because we were very different to a lot of the other boys in our school. I think we were different to everyone and faced the same kind of rejection, so that brought us together a lot.
Did you both know each other was gay or did one of you come out to the other first?
Jon: I always knew Mat was gay and we both knew individually that we were gay from a really young age.
Mat: It’s hard when your younger, especially not being educated about anything other than what society considered, at that time, as normal. So we’re scrabbling around trying to find out why we’re different. In terms of being out, neither one of us came out until we were eighteen.
Jon: While I was living away I came back home and Mat had said to me, ‘Oh I went out to the Nightingale’ which is a big gay club in Birmingham, (Find your way there with TheGayUK free bar finder App). We hadn’t come out to each other at this point but that was kinda Mat’s way of coming out to me. He was like, ‘have you been to the Nightingale too?’ I would have been shocked if Mat had said, ‘I have a girlfriend’.
It must have been a relief coming out?
Jon: We were very much aware that once we’d said it out loud to each other that we would have to talk about telling our Mum and Dad. We were really afraid of telling our dad because we had grown up with lots of LGBT phobic messages from him and that side of the family…
Mat: Maybe this wasn’t true but our perception of it was that his part of our family would prefer us to be drug dealers. So we grew up with really blatant negative messages about being gay. Even the subtle messages, where homophobia in the family isn’t challenged or when there’s nothing in the children’s books about gay people or same-sex couples or trans people. All of those messages together, I think, would be very difficult for any child or young person to grow up and not internalise. Without really knowing it, we grew up into young adults that hated ourselves for being gay. It was a natural part of who we were yet it was something to apologise for, something to be ashamed of. Obviously Proud2Be, the name, is our campaign, our statement to say actually we’re not ashamed anymore and we were for a long time.
Why is the Proud2Be project so important to you both?
Jon: We love what we do with Proud2Be because we’re really able to empower other individuals, but actually Proud2Be first and foremost was for us and we used it to not feel invisible anymore. When we first started the project in 2011 our video was the only one up there for a good while and it was really confronting to make. A lot of people go through a real process of deciding to make the video and talking honestly from the heart, coming to a real place of pride for who they are. A lot of people never say that they’re proud to be gay or proud to be LGBT. It’s almost I’m gay but I’m normal or I’m gay but I’m straight acting or…
Mat: I’m sorry but I’m gay.
Jon: There isn’t much opportunity to say it’s actually something I’m really proud of or is something to celebrate.
Mat: We’re not saying it’s easy to make a Proud2Be video and we really see the value in it as a journey for people. It’s a really bold statement to say ‘I’m proud to be gay’ even though you may have been told otherwise.
What are your hopes for the Proud2Be project?
Jon: First and foremost we aim to help build confidence and self-worth in a proactive, positive way. The project as a whole is about moving forward but also about recognising what’s going on for people in their lives, what messages they’re receiving. It’s about cutting through all the superficial stuff and getting people to think about things like shame and the damaging messages they’ve received, then moving forward building strong LGBTQI communities in rural areas and all around the world by breaking down those ideas that we have to be separate or we cant be a strong community.
Mat: Or that lesbians can’t talk to gay men because they won’t get on or trust each other, or that trans people aren’t actually part of our community. That’s really essential for us, to have a strong community because that’s where, personally, we’ve received support and affirmation. If you’re dealing with a homophobic boss or a transphobic parent you have access to a community or family that accepts you for who you are and are there for you and can listen to you.
Was it a shock to have celebrities like Stephen Fry become part of the project?
Jon: It was, but it’s funny because relatively early on in the project Mat had a radio interview and was asked, ‘who would you like on the campaign’ and Mat was like, ‘oh we’d really like Stephen Fry, we really respect him, he’s really honest’ and the interviewer was like, ‘yeah good luck with that’.
Mat: Anything like that is like reversed psychology and I was like right sod this I’m going to show you. It’s one of my traits. I later sent him the Stephen Fry proud to be video. We don’t want to be just a celebrity campaign though because we feel everyone can make a Proud2Be video but in terms of getting endorsements from high profile people to get the message out there and to have Stephen Fry endorse the campaign by making his own video, it was a really defining moment for us.
How can people get involved or seek help from the Proud2Be project?
Jon: We welcome Proud2Be videos and photos from people and we’re always happy to hear from people over email. We talk a lot with people over the internet. A lot of our face to face work is located in Devon, but we are looking to roll out more services to other parts of the country.
Mat: Our vision is to empower all LGBTQI people, not just LGBTQI people in South Devon. We really want to be adding things to the website like a forum so people in different parts of the country or abroad can feel part of the Proud2Be message.
The lads have also been working hard in their local community and launched the first ever Proud2Be Totnes Pride in 2013. If you’d like to attend this year’s pride and meet the guys then Proud2Be Totnes Pride will be on the 6th September 2014. Peter Tatchell shall also be there showing his support. Check out other UK pride dates and information at: www.PrideGuideUK.com ∎