There is more love in our lifeboat station than anywhere else I know
This Pride Month, as Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboat stations across the UK and Ireland fly the Pride flag, one openly gay volunteer is sharing his experience of being part of the crew.
Brad Johnson first joined RNLI Skegness as shore crew in 2021, before becoming lifeboat crew and is now a launch authority, responsible for authorising the launch of the station’s two lifeboats.
Brad said: ‘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’ve been truly overwhelmed by the love and acceptance from all crew members. There’s more love in our lifeboat station than anywhere else I know.’
Finding support among his fellow volunteers at the station, Brad reassured them that he didn’t want to be treated any differently.
He said: ‘I 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.
‘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.’
For Brad, humour and camaraderie are vital parts of being on the RNLI’s crew, and – in a role which involves confronting often serious, life-threatening situations – those relationships are what help them cope.
‘It’s a weird friendship group, let’s face it, when you meet because your pagers all go off at 2am and you jump in a boat to go out to sea in all kinds of weather,’ he said. ‘But 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.’
And to anyone thinking of joining the RNLI, Brad said: ‘Do it! It has been the best decision I've ever made and has become an integral part of my life. The crew and charity mean so much to me, it's an experience you won't want to give up, and you'll create lifelong connections while making a real difference in your community.’
Among its internal people networks, the RNLI’s LGBT+ Harbour Network is committed to diversity, equality and inclusion and helps the charity identify where it could improve in these areas as well as what it is doing well.
The network gives support to LGBT+ volunteers and staff, runs events and workshops, and works with the People Department on charity-wide training.
Harbour Network Chair Neal Somerville said: ‘At the RNLI we save lives with love and pride, and 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 as an organisation we still have work to be done to ensure that this experience is felt by all. The Harbour Network is committed to creating a place of acceptance for all our people and to ensure we respect each other.’
To donate to the RNLI’s lifesaving work go to GoDonate.org/RNLI
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.
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