Ok, so I am coming up to my 24th birthday. Exciting, right? When I was little I had always imagine that my 24th year was going to be my best year. 24 has always been my favourite number: my birthday, the age my mum was when she got married. I was convinced that by 24 everything was going to be settled. I’d be married, a house, a cat (several cats), and a perfect job. As a little girl, with no particularly object of marriage in mind, I had not even thought about the fact that the law in my country would not allow me to marry!
At every age there are different challenges, I feel like my 20′s have been a time of big change. There have been tons of firsts. First smear test. First moving in with partner. First serious thoughts about marriage, pets and children (mainly pets). First full-time job. First spell in hospital. Some obviously more exciting than others… I have chosen, decided, prioritised, and taken full ownership of my future. With this also came worries about rent, food, impending unemployment and it’s all been a bit much!
I was delighted therefore to see the publishing of Stonewall’s ‘Gay in Britain’ report (http://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/gay_in_britain.pdf). The report surveyed 3.7 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people across the UK and asked them about their perceptions and expectations of public life. The conclusions were bleak. People are considerably concerned about homo- and bi- phobias across virtually every area of public life from medical care to social care, from housing to their working environments, and most upsetting for me, in education. A huge 83% of people worried that their sexuality would put their child at risk of being bullied at secondary school.
This report has left me with a lot of thoughts, feelings, but mostly unanswered questions. Obviously, it is awful that a huge proportion of our community is concerned about such vast parts of their lives, that people may be making choices in response to these concerns and therefore limiting their lives. I wonder the strength of these concerns. I want to know what has fostered them, if they are based in experience, sensationalist media headlines or anecdotes shared between friends. I think the homo- and bi- phobias in school have a huge amount to answer for. Not just because school is hell for a lot of us, but because those hellish experiences go on to shape our expectations and taint our perceptions.
From my personal experience, although I have had isolated experiences of homophobia, this picture of Britain thankfully does not match my own experience. I have spent the last six years coming out in various different contexts and if I am honest it has not often been public authorities where I have faced discrimination, moreover individual idiots (in the street, friends of friends, etc.). From friends’ anecdotes, I am aware that I am in a fairly privileged position to say the least. but this is my experience. This is not to say I’ve not worried about a number of the things highlighted for concern in the report. Of course I have, but it is just worrying because I am a champion worrier, not from negative experience. And, I guess this is why research like this somewhat disconcerts me. It convinces me that I have something that I should be worried about, and this I don’t like!
I hope that this research will soon enough be followed with some further qualitative research to work out where these worries are coming from so we can begin to tackle them. But, for now, I want to say to the little me’s of the world that worry themselves sick about coming out, about what life will be like as a queer and about how people will judge me, that life is often not as difficult as we imagine in our most anxious moments. Yes there is discrimination. Yes some people are horrible. But, things can be fabulous. Every complaint made. Every person willing to teach or stand for office. Every child born. We slowly break down this discrimination by saying that we will not tolerate it and in doing so we change society piece by piece.