My story- Why LGBT people need to be represented in our education system

Here are just a few of the worrying headlines that we’ve already seen this year:

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The fact that LGBT inclusive education is still even a discussion point is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Here’s why:

“How did you know you were gay?” The question I have been asked more times than I could possibly count. The answer is, I just always knew. I always knew that I loved and appreciated women. It always was and always will be who I am, and I would say that I didn’t really contemplate it, until I reached the age of about 12.

Going to high school was a shock to the system. With “gay jokes” being a common part of conversation, I was suddenly exposed to the fact that such a thing as homophobia existed. I started to experience an inner turmoil as this thing that had always been normal to me was suddenly exposed as something supposedly dirty and wrong. As months went on and the emotional burden became too much for me to carry, I finally broke down in tears to two friends and told them my secret. Less than 48 hours later, the entire school knew.

I was sitting in Geography when I first noticed the whispering. Every time I looked up I’d be greeted by a sea of people staring and laughing. Some people purposely moved themselves to the other side of the classroom in disgust. I barely made it through the lesson before running into the girls toilets, locking myself in a cubicle and staying there for the entirety of my lunch break.

After lunch I had PE. As I made my way into the changing rooms feeling sick to my stomach, I was relieved to discover that news didn’t seem to have travelled that far. That moment of relief was brief, as 10 minutes into the lesson the whispering started again. This time people started to confront me. When I tried to answer them the words would fail to leave my mouth and that made them become very aggressive. Coming out to 2 people who I thought were my closest friends was one thing, but coming out to my entire year, most of whom scared the hell out of me, was another thing entirely. It was of no surprise that the lesson ended with me in tears and as I walked to the changing rooms ready to grab my things and leave, I was greeted by the sight of row upon row of girls staring back at me accusingly. “You can’t change in here anymore.” I turned to my teacher feeling completely helpless and she looked back at me and said “It’s probably for the best that you change somewhere else on your own from now on.” My heart broke.

Life at school from that point onward was very different. The news spread like wildfire and within days every single person in the school knew. I couldn’t walk the corridors without people verbally abusing me, or if there was no-one around, trying to physically attack me. In classes people would wait until the teacher turned their back and then steal my belongings or throw heavy objects at me. Every day I was greeted by a new rumour as to which girl in the year I fancied, as the revelation of me being lesbian secured my reputation as some sort of sexual predator. Each night I’d be followed home by about 20 people throwing stones at me and threatening to tell my parents, one time vandalising my house. Even on weekends I would get on the bus to go to town and the parents of the people I went to school with would turn to the people sitting around them and say “that’s the dyke I was telling you about”.

I had many sex education lessons whilst I was at that school. Not one of them even mentioned a same-sex relationship. Well actually, gay men were mentioned once but it was only to present them as an aids risk. Many people have this idealist view that we live in a completely equal and tolerant society, but sadly my story is representative of what many LGBT students really experience and that will remain to be the case until there are serious changes made to our education system. Yes we’ve come a long way over the years, but it still isn’t far enough.

The bullying I experienced because of my sexuality affected my mental health in ways that I never could have imagined. The confidence that was torn away from me has never fully returned, shaping the path that my life took. I transformed from being a self-assured person with a lifelong dream of performing on stage, to someone stripped of any self-belief. I was left feeling like I deserved to be treated the way that I was being treated. That is why I believe anyone who opposes LGBT inclusive education to be truly selfish.

I want to end by drawing your attention to something really great that happened today:

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Today I was proud to discover that my university, and many others, took Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to voice their opinion on this issue. I encourage you to do the same. Please contact your local MP expressing your views, sign petitions and make your voice known on social media. It’s time to stop silently accepting that this is the way things are and start fighting for what today’s young LGBT people deserve.

 

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P.S. If you too have been or are currently experiencing any of the things mentioned above, please never feel alone. Do not hesitate to contact me @emkirsten on twitter or click the Switchboard link at the top of my blog to receive more expert help and advice.

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