These are verbatim transcripts of interviews, reflecting spoken rather than written language.
INTERVIEWER 1: It’s the 27th of January and we are at the Intercom Trust in Exeter to record a live story interview for the Out and About: Queering the Museum project at RAMM. My name is Jana Funke and I am interviewing Andy Hunt today. Thank you so much. So we are asking everyone to choose an object that they connect with, so you’ve looked at the RAMM collections and you’ve selected an object, so can you tell us which object you’ve chosen and describe it to us?
PARTICIPANT 1: I selected the butterfly. A butterfly. Because I think that kind of represents different areas of my life, coming in and out of my cocoon, so to speak, and I just think it’s a really good representation of a lot of people from our communities as well.
INTERVIEWER 1: So can you tell us a bit more about why this object, what drew you to this object, what does this object mean to you personally or professionally?
PARTICIPANT 1: So on a personal level for me, I came out at the age of 17, after, I was brought up in a really strict religious family and coming out at the age of 17 felt like I was coming out of my cocoon, that I could be myself properly for the first time in my life, so it felt like I burst through that cocoon and was kind of starting to show my true colours and then other areas in my life as well. I became an alcoholic and went through rehab at the age of 26, 27, before it was really fashionable to go into rehab, and again, that kind of felt like I was coming out of my cocoon again, because I’d kind of hidden myself away a lot, on all sorts of different levels, on an emotional level, mental level, all sorts of different ways, and finding my true self for the first time in going through rehab. It was a long arduous bootcamp process that I went through but worth every second of it and I’ve been sober now 27 years next month, I think. And the growth in myself in that time has just been amazing, really, and I wouldn’t, looking back I wouldn’t change a thing that I’ve gone through, although at the time I probably thought I would.
INTERVIEWER 1: And professionally, can you say a little bit more about the cocoon and what the butterfly might symbolise in the work that you are doing now?
PARTICIPANT 1: So I’m the CEO of the Intercom Trust and we are the regional lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans plus charity, and we work with, oh, well over a thousand clients every year and we do group work, we do consultancy and lots of training as well and for me, seeing clients come in, I’ve been here for 16 years now, and seeing clients come in when they are kind of just bursting through their own cocoon and seeing them change and grow with the help and support that we offer, and then flying off, you know, becoming the beautiful people that they are and flying off and getting on with their lives, that’s kind of, you know, so my choice of the butterfly, it works on all sorts of different levels for me, both personally and professionally as well and that’s where, I get job satisfaction in lots of different ways from working at Intercom. It’s never ever boring in all the time that I’ve been here and but the real job satisfaction comes in seeing the beauty of the work that we do and seeing people change and grow and getting on with their lives. It really is amazing.
INTERVIEWER 1: It is and I always love to hear you talk about it as well because I think you really communicate that so nicely. Do you think other people when they see this butterfly or other butterflies, do you think other LGBTQ+ people might connect to that object?
PARTICIPANT 1: I think a lot of people would really, because I think it’s kind of a common theme, really, about being stuck, not being able to get out of that situation or that cocoon that you’re in and then finally finding the strength and having the strength to break through that cocoon and then shift and grow and change so I think it will be recognised by quite a lot of our community, really.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yeah, I agree, I think butterflies are kind of a queer symbol. I love how you speak about that.
PARTICIPANT 1: And they’re beautiful as well and we are all beautiful people, we really are. We are all on our own journey of kind of self-acceptance, first of all, and acceptance in the wider scheme of things, by family, by society, and it can take a long, long time to get to a place where you’re really comfortable with your own gender identity or your sexual orientation or both, or you know, so it is a journey for people and I think that becoming the beautiful people that we are, because we are all beautiful in our own way, my wings might have been clipped a few times over the years, which they have, you know, through life, relationship breakdown, death of loved ones, family, that kind of thing, if you can feel like you’ve had your wings clipped sometimes, but eventually they’ll kind of grow back and you can fly again.
INTERVIEWER 1: I love as you talk about the beauty and how affirmative it can be. That overcoming challenges and the work you are doing to help people to do that is so important.
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, and it’s almost like we are, I don’t know whether colony is the right word, colony and butterflies? You know, working here at Intercom and because everyone, all our staff and volunteers have all been on their own journey and you’re able to use your own lived experience within the work that we do as well and I think part of the success of the trust is the people who come to us, they can be themselves from day one. Wherever, it doesn’t matter wherever they are on the spectrums of gender identity or sexual orientation, it really doesn’t matter, there is kind of for the majority of clients that we work with, there is an instant rapport and trust is built up quite quickly with clients, that they know that we are part of the LGBTQ+ communities and we’ve been on our own journeys.
INTERVIEWER 1: So thinking about the installation and the project and having your voice represented in the museum, your story, your object, and your words are going to be in the museum, what is the importance of this project or projects of this kind to you?
PARTICIPANT 1: I think it’s about in our society we’ve gone through maybe a couple of years, in some ways, of taking backwards steps politically and things like that, I won’t talk about politics too much, but visibility, for me it’s about visibility and it’s about visibility in all its different forms, really, because we are a very cross-section of society, you know, and just because we are members of the LGBTQ+ community, doesn’t mean that we are all the same, it doesn’t mean that we all know each other, it doesn’t, stereotypes are still around and every gay man must know every other gay man, every lesbian must know every lesbian, that kind of thing, so the more visibility we’ve got in society the better, you know, and I think it’s really important that people can walk into the museum, who may have no clue that the exhibition’s on, see the exhibition and go, oh, I’ve been thought about, you know? It’s that kind of message, really. So it’s important on all sorts of different levels, but it is about that visibility of our communities that that we do exist and we exist throughout history as well.
INTERVIEWER 1: The last question kind of follows on from what you were saying so you might already have spoken to this but the question was I guess, what do you hope other people will take away when they listen to your story, when they look at the butterfly listen to your words or read your interview?
PARTICIPANT 1: Let me just talk about me first, because I’m very good at that. My life has been challenging on all sorts of different levels throughout the dealing with religion and dealing with my parents’ rejection and conversion therapy and becoming an alcoholic and dealing with all that and thankfully coming to my senses at the age of 26 and then doing the rehab thing and as I said earlier, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life because it’s what makes me the person that I am today but if somebody had said to me in early recovery that in 26 years’ time you’re going to be the CEO of a LGBT charity, I would have just laughed in their face [laughs] I wouldn’t have taken it seriously at all, so I think that it’s, oh, we can just surprise ourselves with our own growth, really. Sometimes. Sometimes I’ll look at my life and go oh my God, am I really doing this? Is this what’s happening? Is this real or is it a dream? On occasion. And it is real, it’s very real, and it’s very wonderful as well.
INTERVIEWER 1: It’s lovely to hear that. As you said earlier, wings can be clipped, there can be challenges, and you’ve overcome then and you’re helping so many people and offering support.
PARTICIPANT 1: And I think the more, it sounds a bit trite really, but the more of life’s challenges [laughs] let’s say, that come up, I never thought I would deal with in the spate of kind of five years I lost two of my sisters at a really young age, my 15-year relationship split up, which was a good thing and I’m very happy, but kind of all at the same time and then taking over as CEO, roughly at the same time as all that other stuff going on was a really challenging thing and on paper if somebody had said to me, this is what you are going to go through in the next three, four years, I’d have just gone, pah, I’m not doing that! [laughs] That’s not happening! But in life you don’t have choices sometimes, you’ve just got to deal with the cards that you’re dealt with, and deal with the consequences of the fallout of them as well, so as I said before my life’s never been boring and there are challenges that come up but I really believe that the challenges make you a stronger person.
INTERVIEWER 1: I mean you are offering so much support to people and I was wondering where did you find support or strength when you were going through some of the difficult times that you mentioned?
PARTICIPANT 1: So when I… it depends what bit we’re talking about really, so coming out, the coming out thing, I’d made some really good friends by that time, thankfully, and I found strength at the age of 17, and it was the age of consent back then was 21, so I did break the law quite a lot, I have to say, you know, and I was going in pubs and clubs when I was like, 16, 17, but I found the gay scene when I was at the age of 17 and walking into there and so many people say this and it’s so true, that I felt like I could completely be myself for the first time ever in my life. There were other people around me that I was like, oh my God, and it really felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders but then obviously I had all the consequences of coming out to my parents and religion and attempted conversion therapy which I was like, no, that’s not happening, this is me, and I was quite a bolshy, really, 17-year-old, by that point, so I found strength from the community, really, around my sexual orientation, around coming out, even though I’d found alcohol at a young age and I did put myself through some really, in some really risky positions, part of me is like, how am I still alive? Through the drinking, through the drug-taking, through everything that I’d gone through, how am I still alive? But I am, I am still alive, probably for a reason. I don’t know. So some of the other challenges, getting into rehab, deciding that I wanted to do something about it, I was penniless and homeless at the age of 26 and ended up in a psychiatric unit, to dry out, and I was in there for three weeks and I just knew there was this innate feeling that I wanted my life to be different but I just did not know, I hadn’t got a clue how or why or what or how it was going to happen and I had to go and sit in front of panel of nurses, doctors, consultants and they asked me a lot of questions and it was quite a tough interview and I just, I was completely myself and just said I want my life to be different but I don’t know how and they offered me rehab and I went through rehab, so I went to primary rehab for six weeks to start off with and I had an amazing, amazing counsellor, who just got me. Just completely got me. But oh God, I was so bolshy in there. A lot of the residents in the rehab were from London, crackheads, all sorts of really tough, like gangstery types and I kind of went mincing through, going fuck you, fuck you, get out of my way, I was just, I guess I would look at myself now and go oh my God, was that you? But it was. That was where I was in myself. And I found strength from all those kinds of scary people that were in there, we all had that addiction thing in common and we all supported each other, which was great, it was really good, so there was a lot of strength that came through that as well, through being with people that kind of understood where you were on that journey and as I said, I had the most amazing counsellor there and then after six weeks there, I went to secondary, which was the men’s unit, and I really did not want to go to the men’s unit. I wanted to go to the women’s unit. I wanted to be with the girls and they wouldn’t let me and I was really disappointed that they wouldn’t let me and I let them know that I was really disappointed but I ended up going to the men’s unit and that was a completely different experience from primary. It was bootcamp. And it was tough, it was really, really tough, and there were a couple of occasions that I thought I just can’t do this anymore, I really can’t, I got to the edge of just walking out because it was difficult, but as I say, it was the best thing that I’ve ever done. I’m so pleased that I stuck it out and then after that I left there and that was in Plymouth and I got a little studio apartment, and made it into a home and that was fantastic and there used to be an LGBT AA meeting in Plymouth that I used to go to when I was in rehab and it was the most popular AA meeting, everyone loved going there and it was always packed, always packed and to run an AA meeting you’ve got to stay sober for at least a year, so I did and then they asked me to start chairing the meetings, so I chaired that meeting for seven years and at the same time I, how I got into this line of work, I was rung up by the rehab, because my profession, I trained as a chef and worked in hotels and things like that, and I used to do a lot of the cooking in rehab, and I got a call from the head cook of the three rehabs, who said we’re short-staffed, do you want to do some volunteering for us and I said yeah, that would be fantastic, so at the women’s unit, so I eventually got to the women’s unit, which was Longreach House. And the women had a vote on whether to let me in or not and they did, because most of them knew me from AA and things and I started volunteering there three days a week and then the cook that was there at the time, the food was, urgh, even I was like oh my God, you can’t serve that up, that is disgusting, so I went in with a bit of flair and imagination with the food, on a very tight budget obviously and then I was offered a full-time job there and then I got really a lot of the clients would, there was just this thing around food, for some of the women, not all of the women, but for some of them, and I was just fascinated about their relationships with food, or their lack of a relationship with food and nutrition and things, so I went and spoke to the manager of the unit and just said, this is really, I’m really fascinated by this and she said, oh, I’ve been waiting for somebody like you to come along and that’s when I did my training, I trained as a counsellor and I was there for five years and I ended up doing the food and nutrition groups and self-esteem and confidence groups and working with individual clients that had not necessarily an eating disorder but were not comfortable around food, because once in early recovery, people put drug and alcohol down and it’s almost like there’s got to be a payoff for that, there’s got to be something else and for a lot of the women it was food, so there was a lot of over-eating, or for some people there was a lot of under-eating as well, so it was really fascinating and then after, so Chrissy, who was the manager of the unit became like my mentor then, but after five years, I just thought, do you know what? I can’t talk about food anymore. I just [laughs] I really can’t say, can you please eat something? And I know I’m being really flippant now but then a job came up at Eddystone Trust, in sexual health, so I applied for that and I got that job and I was there for five years and five years seemed to have been my pattern for jobs and I used to talk about sex a lot and do a lot of outreach work to public sex areas and all sorts of stuff like that and it was really interesting, but after five years I just thought, do you know what, I can’t talk about sex anymore, I just can’t! [laughs] It’s putting me off. So then this job at Intercom Trust came up. I was already some work with Intercom with Michael who was the old CEO doing the police liaison group and working around hate crime and things like that, so that, this job, at Intercom came up to relaunch the help, support and advocacy services and it was the first time that Intercom had got a big funding grant to do that, for three years, so I came in and there was myself and I covered the whole of Devon and Cornwall, working with clients, and we had a part-time helpline worker called Tess and we also had some volunteers and over the years that service, that help, support and advocacy service has just grown and grown and grown over the years, so the first year I worked with 75 clients and we started the Rainbow Cafe drop-in and all sorts of different things and then in the last year we worked with 1,253 clients and this year we’re kind of heading towards 1,500 and we’ve got all sorts of groups happening, we’ve got an addition group happening, we’ve got our therapy going, we’ve got schools workers now, one for Devon, one for Cornwall, we’ve got more staff than we’ve ever had before and we’ve got the most amazing team. We really have. Everybody is really dedicated to what we do. It’s not just a job. It’s kind of a vocation really. And that, you know, not just the paid employees, but also our volunteers as well, you know, that work with us and work alongside us and the board of trustees, there was a real passion for what we do and to keep the trust going and as a trust we’re in a better position now than we’ve ever been which is just quite incredible really and there’s more growth on the way, I think. So we’re kind of living in scary but exciting times at the same time.
INTERVIEWER 1: Well thank you so much for sharing all this, I mean it’s just lovely to hear how all of your experiences and you finding support and finding community and now you are offering this to others. It’s a wonderful story. The butterfly does symbolise this in so many ways.
PARTICIPANT 1: Absolutely. It really does. And going back to what I said before, it really is about that, we’re all beautiful people and we come out of out cocoons at whatever age that might be, the client group that we work with, when I was doing direct client work we use to work with young people and families and the oldest client that I work with came out as a trans woman at the age of 84 in a small town in Cornwall. How beautiful is that? And it was amazing to see that breaking out of that cocoon and being part of that journey.
INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you so much.
[00:21:57] End of transcript