Sponsored: Alex Burke, 21, tried to commit suicide after he came out via a public Facebook post to his 600 followers.
He was so terrified about what his mom might say that he couldn’t handle a face-to-face conversation.
He told Gay Star News: ‘I was mostly scared because my family was quite homophobic. I didn’t know if I was going to end up homeless.’
His cousin told her mom and then her mom rang Alex’s to break the news.
She was fuming.
Alex explained what happened next: ‘I tried to commit suicide after I came out as gay.
‘My family is quite homophobic and I felt I didn’t want to be at home anymore and stay with them,’ he said.
Alex lives in Omagh, a small rural town in Northern Ireland. On what it was like growing up, he said: ‘It was pretty horrible to be honest.
‘Where I live, it’s quite rural so you get small-minded people. I would get called names when I’m out drinking,’ he said.
After he came out, it all got too much. He was bullied at school, suffered anxiety and eventually tried to commit suicide by overdose. His relationship with his mom also deteriorated.
‘It was hard and it made me feel really sick’
Alex Burke was referred to a social worker who suggested he be put into a program run by Action for Children, a UK-based charity committed to helping vulnerable and neglected children, young people and their families.
Alex was assigned a floating support worker, who helped him with independent living skills, just in case his relationship with his mother fell apart even further.
He developed skills like learning how to cook, budget and manage a tenancy.
After this, he was then referred to their participation service. This is set up for young people to introduce them to other young people who are all experiencing the same sort of issues.
Clare McClintock is the inclusion officer for Action for Children, but worked as a participation officer when Alex was first introduced to the service.
She said: ‘Alex was really shy and found it difficult to even hold eye contact.’
When Alex first joined the program, he experienced low moods, bullying at school, fear about family rejection because of his sexuality and a breakdown of his relationship with his mom, says Clare.
She said, over time, ‘he absolutely thrived’ in the program.
‘I met my best friend Grainne there,’ Alex said. ‘We joined the participation group on the exact same day so we’re like stuck.
‘Everywhere you see her, you see me now,’ he joked.
Clare helped Alex sign up for public speaking classes, where he learned to get more confidence.
Alex believes Clare saved his life.
He said: ‘There’s so much to say about Clare – she’s amazing. If it wasn’t for Clare, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’
Alex Burke: ‘I thought I was too ugly’
Clare knows a lot about the LGBTI community and is always there for a chat.
Alex said: ‘Before I got my first partner, I didn’t believe I would find anybody. I thought I was too ugly.
I just didn’t think I fitted in with the LGBTI community properly. She went through some of the information and just made me believe in what was good,’ he said.
Clare encouraged Alex to be a young ambassador with Action for Children, a highly coveted position.
— Inclusion team (@AfC_Inclusion) May 24, 2017
He’s one of two youth ambassadors for Northern Ireland, traveling the UK with his best friend Grainne (the same one he met on his first day of the participation service!)
Through that, loads of different opportunities came up where he shared his experiences at various events. He spoke about his becoming homeless, his sexuality and some of the challenges he faced.
Alex received a millennium volunteer award for contributing 200 hours voluntarily to Action for Children.
He just completed a level three youth working course and hopes to work with Action for Children in the future.
Clare said: ‘He has really come from being an anxious young person with very little confidence to travel through the service and be a real pioneer and champion of LGBTI rights.’
As for Alex’s relationship with his mom, he says they’ve never been closer. She even met his last boyfriend.
‘I live with my mum now again and she’s totally fine with it now.
‘She’s more comfortable with the men that I meet now than I am,’ he joked.
Find out more about fostering with Action for Children.