Friday, 13 February 2015

Homophobia is alive and well - I know first hand.

A little known thing about me, is that before politics and before the Council and way back in the annals of time (see 2008) I was involved in a Channel 4 education TV show. The show followed the lives on 15 young people across a year where we each had really clear goals. One member of the team was a Labour PPC, one was starting what has become a fantastic poetry collective in Nottingham called Mouthy Poets. My 'big dream' was to submit a song to the Eurovision Song Contest, and it's an aim that I achieved, in a round about way. I ended up submitting a song to Ireland, it got turned down and so I spent the last few months of my big year recording and releasing an EP. Thus is life.

The TV show involved me basically being followed around by a camera crew on occasion, especially when something big was happening. One of the final sessions they recorded was when I was launching my EP at an event at a local theatre. What we found, on the day was that a number of the posters I'd put up advertising the event had been either torn down or had homophobic statements written on them. I refused to be recorded talking about it, because I didn't want a positive event being defined by something so grim. I think in a sense I was also embarrassed, because I was trying to project something positive, and it was being undermined. Another time during filming we had to briefly stop as passers by shouted 'gay boy' at me.

But that was 2008, we've moved on right? Well, yes and no.

Yesterday as I got the bus to Frome (a retained service that remains my proudest achievement from my time as a County Councillor) and as I hopped off the chap waiting to get on with his wife or girlfriend said 'gay boy' again, as I walked past.

It was really, really strange. He was a grown man, I'm a grown man, yet he was using playground abuse against me as I walked past him. This verbal attack was really no different to other playground attacks - in terms of intelligence it's about as complex as 'fatso'. Yet, it was motivated by my sexuality and so could be reported as a hate crime.

The thing is, I like tricking myself into thinking that homophobia doesn't really exist any more, and I think we all do. What happens generally, is that you leave school and go to University - it's a self-selecting group that very often will limit the ability for homophobia to grow. Or, you turn to the gay scene, or community groups where there isn't an issue. My point is, we surround ourselves with our own tribes, and because we don't get attacked any more, we think that it's all petered out.

But it isn't true. I believe that in certain parts of our society, homophobia is just as rife now as it ever was. While government remains timid about sex and relationship education, I believe young people are still having to bare the brunt of this scourge. I wasn't upset as such, yesterday, I was more surprised. But, what I am upset about is the fact that for every regressive twenty-something who thinks that that kind of thing is okay, there will be plenty more young people using these kinds of slurs every day. What's more, there will be LGBT+ people having to deal with various prejudices every single day. People who just want to be left alone and built their own lives with some semblance of dignity.

If we think that this is just a contained event, we're deluding ourselves. A survey last year pointed out that 52% of LGBT+ people surveyed had considered or attempted self harm recently or in the past. 44% of these people had considered suicide. These figures tell us something about what's happening outside of our own cosy little microcosms. It's high time that Government stepped in and provided proper education and support for young people - if we're in Government again after 2015 it's something I'll campaign for. Because, simply, there are a whole load of people out there, they're hurting, and they're relying on us to do something about this. Same-sex Marriage was a big win for us, but we should never flinch in the face of this fight, until we know that all young people can go to school and live their lives safely, happily and without fear of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic attack.    

If we can't do something about it, I question why we're here.

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