Pride: There's more love in our lifeboat station than anywhere else I know

As a launch authority at Skegness Lifeboat Station, Brad Johnson is part of a special family. This June is Pride month, and RNLI lifeboat stations and lifeguard units around the UK and Ireland are flying the rainbow flag to show love and support for our LGBT+ lifesavers, supporters, heroes and passers by. 

Skegness RNLI Deputy Launching Authority and former Crew Member Brad Johnson stands in front of a lifeboat

But that love is about so much more than raising a flag.

Here, Brad shares his experience of being an openly gay volunteer in Skegness, and what Pride means to him.

‘A couple of friends encouraged me to join up, and it’s fair to say I was a bit nervous about going into what was a very male, heterosexual environment. 

‘After a couple of weeks, my sexuality just came up in conversation, and it’s never been an issue. I do think people were a little nervous about saying the wrong thing. They didn’t want the joking and humour that’s such a big part of the station to upset me, which was really nice, but I made it clear that I wanted to be part of that.

‘I’ve found that questions I’ve been asked have been all around understanding, learning and finding out more about the LGBT+ community; it has never been to pry or be intrusive.

Skegness lifeboat at sea on a training exercise, with a wind farm in the background

Nick Walton

‘I started as shore crew, and then moved on to being lifeboat crew. Then, following some changes in my career, I’ve moved to the launch authority team. I’m also the lifeboat training coordinator – these roles are more suited to my availability.

‘I’ve been truly overwhelmed by love and acceptance from all members of crew. But it’s one of the oldest who’s been one of the most supportive. He told me at the start, if anything offended me, to let him know and he’d make sure it stopped. 

‘My attitude is: “Please don’t be offended for me.” If I am offended, I’ll let people know and we can have a conversation about that. And that conversation isn’t about a telling off, it’s always about learning and sharing experiences.

‘The key is to treat everyone as an individual, not a stereotype. 

‘If people feel nervous about saying the wrong thing, they don’t ask important questions and I think that’s more dangerous than getting it wrong. 

Skegness lifeboat crew and fundraisers pose with a certificate at an M&S foodhall
Brad (right) celebrates fundraising success with fellow lifesavers

‘I like that crew ask me whether I have a partner, how dating’s going and so on, in just the same way they’d ask a straight crew member about their girlfriends or boyfriends. There’s no awkwardness around the question, and that’s great.

‘It’s a weird friendship group, let’s face it, when you meet because your pagers all go off at 2am and you get together in a cold building that’s essentially a metal shed and jump in a boat to go out to sea in all kinds of weather! 

‘Being a lifeboat crew member is not a normal volunteering role. Most people don’t have to go to sometimes harrowing situations, and then go back to normal life once the job is done. Humour and camaraderie are big parts of how we cope with that, but it’s humour built on trust. 

‘There’s more love in our lifeboat station than anywhere else I know. I’ve never felt more part of a family and a community than I have since I joined the RNLI. We’re a group of brothers and sisters, a family. And underpinning all families is love, trust and the unwavering level of respect. This is my second family, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.’

Withernsea Lifeboat Station, with beach in the background, flying the RNLI flag and the Pride flag. Inshore lifeboat and tractor are in front of station
The Pride flag flies at Withernsea Lifeboat Station

Brad’s positive experience of love, acceptance and inclusion is one that is shared by many LGBT+ volunteers, supporters and staff. But we know that we as an organisation need to keep on working to ensure that this experience is universal; that the kindness that drives us to save those in danger at sea is also shown in how we treat each other.

The RNLI Harbour Network gives support to LGBT+ volunteers and staff, runs events and workshops, and works with the People Department on charity-wide training on equity, diversity and inclusion.

This is not a box-ticking exercise. If we’re not aiming to understand and give voice to people of all different experiences and backgrounds, we may miss out on the talents of lifesavers like Brad, or on the opportunity to reach a community with water safety advice to keep them safe.

We know that we will save more lives together. That’s the reason the RNLI exists. And if we can do that with love and pride, things will be that much brighter, this June and all year round.