NOT long ago, I could have easily become a statistic. At 12 years old, I realised that I was gay. Approaching my teenage years and quickly falling into an abyss of self-discovery, I suddenly found myself suffocated by the heteronormativity that plagues our society. I struggled with self acceptance, I was confused – trapped by my identity and lost in my own head. With pressure mounting and a desperate desire to escape myself, I contemplated suicide.
My experience is certainly not isolated, and I am repeatedly disturbed that despite alleged social progress, there are still LGBT+ children out there who are imprisoned by the same psychological distress that I experienced.
Stonewall Scotland’s latest school report exposes a shocking trend: a quarter of LGBT+ school pupils have attempted suicide, and over half are deliberately and regularly self-harming. These statistics are damning, and they throw this idea that Scotland is the British equivalent of The Castro out of the window entirely.
Almost a year ago, I co-founded Time for Inclusive Education (TIE), which aims to completely transform how the Scottish education system approaches issues relating to LGBT+ youth. Currently, our state educational institutions are breeding grounds for LGBT-phobia, and many teachers are lacking the training and confidence required to effectively tackle this.
The biggest threat facing the LGBT+ community is societal and governmental complacency, and there is a lot of it when it comes to inclusivity within the education sector. We’re living in an era whereby it seems that equal marriage has somehow translated into equality full stop – “they can get married, what else do they want?”
Unfortunately, too many forget that we are still in the midst of an equal rights movement and that, frankly, topping lists as the country with the best LGBT+ legal rights really doesn’t disguise the fact that there’s an awful lot more to be done on the ground. It certainly does not give our leaders carte blanche to shout about how progressive we are when we’re still facing down a rack of issues.
We’ve come a long way since the days when same-sex sexual activity could result in a custodial sentence, but we can’t fall into the trap of self-congratulation. Sure, I can marry my boyfriend now, and we can foster a child, but that doesn’t mean that we should settle for what we’ve got.
There’s still a long way to go – if the child (let’s call him Mark) that I’ve just hypothetically fostered needs a blood transfusion, then he better not rely on his dads, because unless we have abstained from sexual activity for 12 months, the NHS won’t accept our blood.
If Mark is being bullied at school because of his same-sex parents, then I can’t be confident that his teachers have been properly trained in how to deal with that. Sticking with education: if I want Mark to know about the history of the LGBT+ community, then I’d better teach him it myself – he’ll learn all about the civil rights movement at school, but he can forget it if he wants to know anything about the Stonewall riots.
Whilst our elected representatives scoop up shiny pink awards and tell us all how committed they are to equality – a transgender kid has just been made homeless.
Whilst celebrities pay lip service to the community, an aspiring young drag queen has just been assaulted. Whilst we settle down to our latest Netflix addiction, someone’s gay son has just committed suicide.
Our country has the opportunity to lead the way here: to show that, as a nation, we value the wellbeing of our youth. We have to ensure that equality is at the heart of all of our social institutions, especially those that we trust with our children.
Scotland has moved on from the days of Section 28, but our education system has yet to catch up. The time for inclusivity is now, and we must take every step to make sure that the next generation of LGBT+ youth do not endure the same struggle that so many are facing today.