Hadley Stewart (he/him) is a journalist and activist who is Features Editor at Vada Magazine and regular contributor to FS Magazine.

LGBT HERO: How do you define or describe the work you do for the LGBTQ+ community?

Hadley: During my first year at university, I was a part-time intern at PACE, an LGBTQ+ mental health charity, where I wrote factsheets for their website alongside working on the charity’s social media and external communications. It was a rewarding role that allowed me to realise how much I enjoy writing, and drove me to wanting to work in LGBTQ+ media. Subsequently, I began working as a freelance journalist for various queer publications, such as Attitude, FS magazine, Out News Global and PinkNews. For a time, I worked for ‘mainstream’ outlets, but always keeping LGBTQ+ stories in mind. For instance, I wrote about LGBTQ+ rights in Europe for Euronews, reported on the government-led anti-gay crackdown in Egypt for NBC News, and covered the impact of the Venezulan economic crisis on the queer community for Reuters. Alongside this, I have spoken about LGBTQ+ topics on TV and radio for the BBC and Sky.

The Covid pandemic put a stop to my plans of travelling the world to cover LGBTQ+ rights, so I returned to LGBTQ+ media and started at Vada Magazine as their Features Editor. Three years on, I’m still at Vada, where I get to interview inspiring LGBTQ+ people and allies who are doing wonderful things for our community, be it through their jobs or activism. I’m particularly proud of launching Vada’s digital covers two years ago, as a means of profiling and celebrating LGBTQ+ role models and giving them an even bigger platform on our website and social media channels. I also edit our ‘Out at Work’ features that shine a light on LGBTQ+ professionals working across various sectors, including finance, education and science. Plus, I get to live my Devil Wears Prada fantasy, by attending fashion weeks in Paris and London twice a year.

I also speak in schools about my experiences of homophobic bullying during my time in education. Having experienced a decade of homophobic bullying at school, I think it’s encouraging that schools are now thinking about LGBTQ+ representation in the curriculum, yet it certainly feels long overdue. It’s also a privilege to be in a position to be able to speak about my own experience, to help the next generation of queer students who may be experiencing bullying or discrimination.

I’m proud to be a gay person in positions of senior leadership across various sectors, in addition to my work in journalism. I sit on the Board of Directors of the United Front Against Riverblindness, a US-based NGO working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases. Oh, and there’s my full-time job in the NHS.

In a nutshell, I’m up at 5am and go to bed at 11pm, work with people across three continents, and have five email addresses. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What would you say are the main goals and outcomes of the work you do? 

I believe the main purpose of my media work is to help give LGBTQ+ people a voice, all the while holding those in power to account who attempt to erode our rights and freedoms. LGBTQ+ people face discrimination on a daily basis. Whilst the rights of our community have come a long way, it’s also important for us to continue to push the needle further until we have true equality and societal acceptance. There are so many eye-opening, awe-inspiring and heart-breaking stories, which need to be told to help us achieve this. I’ve been trusted with the stories of many people over the past eight years of working as a journalist - the weight of responsibility to do these people’s stories justice is not lost on me.

When it comes to my work in schools, one day I hope that all young people are able to go to school without fear of being judged, bullied or discriminated against. Until then, I’ll continue knocking on doors, taking to the school hall stage, and pushing for a zero-tolerance approach to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools across the country.

Why do you do what you do? 

The main reason I do what I do is to help other LGBTQ+ people who may be feeling alone, misunderstood or unseen. When I was growing up, I feared that being gay would hold me back in life. That certain doors, be it in my personal or professional life, would be closed to me. Then I discovered queer magazines, namely Attitude and FS, and a whole new world was opened up to me. I believe that queer publications still have an important part to play today, and that all of us working across LGBTQ+ media can have a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

What is something you have been most proud of? 

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been involved in several projects that I’m proud of, however, if I had to pick one it would be speaking at the Festival of Education in 2022. I was reunited with my former English teacher, Naomi Lord, where we spoke in front of an audience of teachers and educators from across the country about my experiences of being gay at school, and how Naomi helped me and other LGBTQ+ students feel seen and accepted. Since leaving school, she continues to support me in my career and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.

What do you think the key issue the LGBTQ+ community is currently facing? 

Mental health is a huge issue within our community. I’ve written about both my own experiences of mental health, as well as other people’s. I think there are a number reasons why we see higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide amongst LGBTQ+ people, however, it’s clear to me that discrimination is a contributing factor. Personally, I’d like to see greater access to free LGBTQ-inclusive mental health services, in addition to tougher legislation that protects queer people from discrimination and hate crimes.

What can we do to make society a better and safer space for LGBTQ+ people? 

Right now, I’d say become politically engaged. Like it or not, our rights are political. It’s taken decades for LGBTQ+ people to gain greater rights and protection from the law, yet this can all be easily taken away from us. If you want change for LGBTQ+ people, it comes down to who you elect to represent you at either a local or national level. We are seeing some pretty alarming views from various politicians at the moment, especially towards trans people. The only way to change that is to vote for leaders who want to progress LGBTQ+ rights, rather than erase them. As a side note, I really hope we see a Prime Minister who is part of the LGBTQ+ community in my lifetime.

Who is your LGBTQ+ hero? 

I certainly look up to Sir Ian McKellen. We went to the same school (albeit not at the same time) and his name was sometimes dropped into conversation. It was one of the few times I’d heard a queer person being spoken about positively. McKellen is an outstanding actor and activist, and we all owe him so much for what he has done for LGBTQ+ rights in our country. Professionally and on the theme of leadership, White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, and British Vogue editor, Edward Enninful, are two inspiring people I look up to.

What else would you like to achieve? 

I’m only 27, so I hope that there is still a lot more I’m yet to achieve and perhaps haven’t even thought about. I used to watch The Devil Wears Prada every Sunday as a teenager, so being editor of a magazine is certainly on the career wish list… In all seriousness, I’d love to continue working on projects for the LGBTQ+ community, helping people, and creating positive change in our society.

You can read Hadley Stewart's features and articles for Vada Magazine HERE