Fostering unity, Matt Rood AKA Mr Gay England, shares his purpose and drive with us
There's so much more to being Mr Gay England than just a winning a title, as MatchaNow's Matt Rood proves as he shares his personal journey with us. Highlighting his purpose to raise the profile of LGBT foster parenting to the UK and Europe.
Were your family supportive when you came out?
Yes, massively so, and they always have been. I’ve been very fortunate to have felt their love and support at every point of my journey.
So where did your journey begin?
Well I grew up near Southampton in a small village in the New Forest. I just knew I was different to the people around me. It didn’t feel right to remain there and I wanted to find out who I was and where I belonged, so when I finished my education I became a member of the cabin crew with BA and moved to Brighton.
What will it mean to you if you win Mr Gay Europe?
Everything. It will mean that I’ve turned my life around after losing everything I loved.
Gosh how so?
The last few years have been an emotional rollercoaster. My marriage broke down and I’ve literally had to start from scratch and try to remain positive in order to keep pushing forwards. Losing the love of your life makes you question who you are and what you’re doing in life; it was either going to go one way or another, I just couldn’t let myself slide, I’m a fighter.
What has helped you along the way?
Support from friends and family has been amazing, but to keep my mental attitude strong, health and fitness have played a big part. Bigger than I ever anticipated really. When my marriage ended I felt as though I’d lost control of so much, but through setting a weekly regime of healthy exercise patterns and good eating habits I unknowingly gave myself control and focus every week. It was never about how I looked, I judged myself on I felt.
So living a healthy lifestyle pulled you through…
Yes, I’ve always been quite a healthy eater anyway, but I’d definitely gained a bit of chub in my marriage. Exercising kept me positive and my head held high. It gave me a schedule, a goal to smash on a day when I felt like I was failing in other ways. But then… it also led me on to my new life. I thought to myself, what do I love? I love dogs and fitness, so I set up my own dog walking company and now get to walk with adorable, and sometimes crazy, hounds every day.
And our MatchaNow helps?
Yes I find that drinking it really gives me a focused form of energy. It seems to last for a good few hours which is often all I have time to consume being so busy.
So a few months ago you entered Mr Gay England and won! Amazing news!
Yes, that was another byproduct of the healthy lifestyle, and I’m absolutely honoured to have this title because it means that I can promote another cause close to my heart…
Is this child fostering within LGBT couples?
Yes absolutely. It was an incredible experience for me. Anyone in the LGBT community who has a lot of love to give and wants children should consider fostering. I’m working day and night in conjunction with events all over the country to raise the profile and awareness of this.
And is the country jumping to support your cause?
Yes the support has been incredible and it’s just snowballing. There is a real need in this country for loving, same sex foster parents, and support for those already doing so. Because I’ve been there and gone through the process it’s something that I feel very passionate about, and will use any opportunity that arises through the comp to raise the visibility of it.
So I started off by walking the London Pride March with the charity New Family Social, alongside other foster parents to promote visibility of same sex families in the community.
Next came the charity Coram with a social media campaign to promote their London Pride event focusing on LGBT and adoption, so I supported that with tweets and a press release.
Then through my own efforts on social media, things have really started to take off - I began contacting same sex families to post a selfie with #proudofmyfamily on it. Brighton and Hove Council saw this and loved it, so we’re about to launch a foster campaign for the whole of September. We’re asking same sex couples with kids to take a selfie, post it with #proudofmyfamily and put it online. In conjunction with that I’m doing a number of vlogs of my experience with the fostering process, as well as hosting events at local coffee shops where LGBT couples can meet and ask about fostering.
That’s amazing to get the word out there for your chosen cause…
That’s not it though, there’s more! After all of the above, Liverpool County Council have come on board and are collaborating with me to promote their ‘Room For One More’ foster campaign.
During all of this time, Northumberland have seen the social media work, and now want to run the same campaign as Brighton and Hove.
How does it feel to have set this all in motion?
Amazing. It just goes to show that your dreams are attainable.
You’ve also been educating children on same sex couples as part of your work?
Yes I’ve been taking my Pop and Ollie books into schools and reading them to children with the sole aim of reducing the stigma of being gay. This is to help prevent bullying in schools for kids who might want to come out one day, and also foster children of same sex families.
How are they receiving it?
Well I tell them about my journey and let them ask questions - which are sometimes very blunt. But it’s good - we all get chatting and the sessions are really engaging.
All of this just keeps spurring me on with my three aims as Mr Gay England… One, to raise awareness about fostering and promote same sex couples and parents to do vlogs on their journey. Two, to work in primary schools to lower the stigma and bullying there. And three, to create fun weekend breaks where same sex families can have an adventure break with other same sex families.
I’m sensing that this third one has just come true as well?
Yes, I’ve just confirmed a 100 acre site at Fairthorn Manor - campfires under the stars, the lot. I just want to encourage a sense of belonging…
For people to know that they’re not alone?
Will you use your position as Mr Gay Europe to continue to spread the word across more countries?
Without a doubt, yes. The process for fostering takes about six months and I want to promote it and offer support for the families whilst they're going through it. I’d like to continue all aspects of my work across Europe.
Have you met the other competitors?
Yes - it's a really friendly bunch. It’s definitely a positive experience as opposed to being a stressful one. If I don’t win then I sincerely hope that Mr Gay Wales or Mr Gay Scotland win. I’ve met them both and they’re both gentle and kind.
So the last two years have actually been a refreshing and refining process…
Yes which teaches everyone the importance of keeping on going and not giving up. I’ve met loads of new and inspirational people, and everything that I love has come together in my everyday life to ensure that I’m 'me' in a healthy and happy way. I’m looking forward to continuing this in the future and helping others to feel the same.
Show your support for Matt’s work and click here to help him win Mr Gay Europe - you can vote every 24 hours for him to win. Come on, let’s do our best for him!