Being Gay In The UK
Intersex Inclusive Pride Flag Admiral Duncan London
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Being Gay In The UK

For the third year in a row, the UK has fallen down Europe’s LGBTQ+ rights ranking. So what is it like being a young gay man in the UK? 

To begin with, my experiences of being gay in the UK are likely different to that of many others in the country. Intersectionality is important to consider when speaking of people’s experiences, as intersecting identities may contribute to different outcomes. For me racism, sexism and transphobia are not elements of my experiences of being gay as I am a white, cis-gender man. 

Early Childhood

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t know or understand what “gay” was when I was younger. Neither our schools nor our parents taught us about what being gay was. So as a child, in a time where children didn’t have phones, there weren’t many ways to learn about different family types and sexualities. 

Discrimination often comes from a lack of understanding and misinformation. Luckily for me, I didn’t experience any homophobic abuse in primary school – even in instances where I may have been more feminine than the other boys. This, unfortunately, isn’t the case for everyone and some even experience homophobic bullying before they themselves understand their own identity. 

I went to a Roman Catholic primary school which may make you think that homophobia was rife there, given that holy matrimony is only between a man and woman. But it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, that was the only school I have attended where I felt the most comfortable and safe in my own skin. There we were taught to love unconditionally and treat others how we wish to be treated. Although I’m not religious at all today, I am grateful for learning those values. 

As a child I had what I now understand as a “crush” on a few male stars. At the time I thought my obsession with Troy Bolton and Shane Gray was because they were cool. In reality, they were my first crushes. They were my gay awakening, if you will. 

Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for Barefoot Wine

Early Teens

I’m sure many LGBTQ+ people can relate, secondary school was the worst. Bullying of all sorts is, unfortunately, very common in secondary schools. It has always existed and continues to exist – Ofsted rated school in Sheppey inadequate after several issues were found including homophobia

It wasn’t until the end of secondary school that I truly understood my sexuality. Nonetheless, I experienced homophobic bullying from the very beginning. The bullying mostly consisted of homophobic slurs and was never physical. I was lucky in that sense, as I did know some other pupils in my school who were physically hurt for being perceived to be gay. 

My school didn’t offer much support either. Countless times teachers and staff heard homophobic language and, rather than addressing the homophobia, they would just ask students to stop being disruptive. Essentially, labelling their behaviour as a nuisance rather than by what it is – discriminatory. 

I admire those who were brave enough to come out in school; I could have never done so. A target was already placed on my back before I even understood what being gay meant for me. So I can only imagine it would have been worse had I been openly gay. I did eventually come out whilst in secondary school, but only to very few friends and to my family.

Coming out to my friends was so easy. We were a group of gay guys anyway; its just that many of us were still closeted. Coming out to my family wasn’t as easy. Their reactions could have been worse, I’ll admit. However, being questioned for weeks on end about whether it could be a phase I’m going through was infuriating. A phase? A phase is something that comes and goes, I would have never gone through the uncomfortable process of coming out if I wasn’t sure. 

It took a while for me to feel comfortable with my sexuality at home. A few years, if I’m honest. But I’m happy I can fully be myself at home now and feel more comfortable than ever. 

Late teens

Thankfully, I didn’t stay in that school for my A-Levels and went to a different sixth form instead. It was in the same area, so the same sorts of ideas and values still existed and I didn’t feel 100% comfortable. Regardless, it was an upgrade. I no longer experienced homophobia there but the fear of it lingered. 

My sixth form had a LGBTQ+ student support group. I never accessed it, but it was there should I have needed it. In spite of that, by the school showing that they took LGBTQ+ pupils’ needs seriously, it meant that there was less room for pupils to be disrespected. Student groups like this are needed in all schools!

During the time I was in sixth form, the situation with LGBTQ+ education in primary schools was in limbo. Parents across the UK were protesting against the teaching of LGBTQ+ inclusive education, with many citing this as indoctrination. There is no harm in learning about the diverse population around us. If anything, it is beneficial to do so. The only way we can learn to live together, respect and love each other is if we understand and learn about each other’s differences. Difference is what makes us unique and beautiful. 

Unfortunately, many parents did not believe this. 

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

I also had my first job while in sixth form, working in retail. Gladly I didn’t experience any homophobia and haven’t in any role I’ve had since. I guess I’m lucky. 

University (Current) 

I have never been more comfortable in my own skin than at university. Moving away from my town and to a big city was the best thing! I have found that universities are generally more accepting settings, at least in comparison to other educational settings. 

However, a big city does not mean that all homophobia ceases to exist. Cities generally being more diverse gives the illusion that prejudices don’t exist or are very minimal. In my small bubble at university, I am safe. In the outside world, not always. I have had instances in nightclubs where someone has thrown their cup at me after finishing their drink. Men have made comments on the streets, almost like homophobic cat-calls. I have even experienced homophobia from bouncers in nightclubs, the people who are supposedly there to keep others safe. 

In spite of all this, I make sure to live as authentically as possible. If it angers a homophobe, even better.

So why is the UK falling down the ranks of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe?

My experiences show that homophobic abuse persists in the UK but that isn’t the only issue. The government’s reluctance to extend the ban on conversion therapy to trans people contributed significantly to their lower ranking. On top of that, plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to get rid of the medical diagnosis needed to legally change gender were scrapped. 

Evidently, the barriers affecting LGBTQ+ people in the UK are both societal and legislative. If legislation doesn’t fully respect people, how can society be expected to? 

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a Social Policy and Sociology student at the University of Birmingham. I am the current Head of Podcasting at BurnFM, a student-run radio station, and also have my own podcast. I'm excited to be writing for Freshered and branching out from radio! I enjoy writing (and reading) about social issues, music and pop culture.