A Stonewall volunteer has been awarded a prestigious Diana Award for his outstanding commitment to helping vulnerable young lesbians and gay men in his Kent hometown.

Joe Whitbread, 18, received his award after he set up the first gay youth group in West Kent, where young people socialise and support each other in a safe environment.

Having been bullied at school himself, Joe wanted to ensure that other young gay people did not suffer the same discrimination that he did.

The Diana Awards were set up in 1999 to recognise the contributions young people make to their communities.

Joe, from Tunbridge Wells, has worked at Stonewall as a volunteer on Stonewall’s Education for All campaign and was also a key speaker at the inaugural Stonewall Education Conference in 2006, where he spoke about his experiences of homophobic bullying.

“I’m so proud to receive the Diana Award,” he said.

“When I was bullied for being gay there was no one I could talk to and when other young people told me about their experiences of homophobic bullying, I knew I wasn’t alone.

“I was determined to set up a youth group where people like me in my local community could share their experiences and offer each other support in dealing with the bullying we faced.”

Earlier this year Stonewall published The School Report, which revealed that 65 per cent of young gay people have experienced homophobic bullying at school and only 15 per cent attend a local gay youth group.

The survey also found that young people who attend a gay youth group are 37 per cent more likely to feel there is an adult at home they can talk to about being gay and 32 per cent are more likely to feel there is an adult at school they can talk to.

Johan Jensen, Stonewall’s education officer, said:

“We’re delighted that Joe’s work to set up a gay youth group has been recognised. Stonewall’s work to tackle homophobic bullying in schools wouldn’t be possible without people like Joe.

“Gay youth groups offer vital support for gay young people and can help tackle homophobia in schools and communities.”