Do say gay: LGBT sexuality isn't the problem – bigotry is

Published: June 5, 2011

Growing up being different is not easy. This is especially true in schools: signs of weakness or difference attract bullies like ugly moths to the light. This is especially true for LGBT students, who are statistically more likely to be bullied.

I was unlucky enough to be one of these lights, and a very attractive one at that – I wear glasses when I’m working, I’m a geek, I have a funny accent and I’m attracted to other women. I’ve left that treatment behind permanently, but I’m all too aware that there are other students who still have to endure this abuse. I’ve even encountered some shocking homophobia in conversations with older people. I won’t dissect the sentiments in detail, but I will say that it involved aliens and abandoning a certain demographic on their planet.

There are public figures who continue to lend an air of legitimacy to homophobic attitudes and indirectly condone the bullies. Peter Heck, a conservative US radio host and columnist, recently claimed that coming out as lesbian, gay or bi was just "an alarming fad" and that these types of sexuality are "decadent". The straw man that gay people aim to "incessantly shove their unconventional behavior in front of our children’s faces" also made an appearance – emotional blackmail involving children is often used as a substitute for logical argument in debates about sexuality.

Heck goes on to say that "there is absolutely no courage to be found" in someone declaring that they are gay, lesbian, bi or transsexual. Well, you know what, Peter? When you’ve gone through years of abuse and harassment , I can guarantee that you’d find coming out of the closet a frightening experience too. The feeling of acceptance can be wonderful, but rejection can be deeply wounding. And, sadly, rejection is not uncommon in a culture where organisations such as Narth in the US continue to encourage patients to "develop their heterosexual potential".

Young LGBT people face a higher rate of self-harm and suicide than their heterosexual peers. This unfortunate pattern is also seen in older LGBT groups as well – a study by the Brighton & Hove LGBT Suicide Prevention Working Party shows that people in this group who are under 40 are three times as likely to have considered suicide as a similar heterosexual group, and more likely to turn to substance abuse.

Some representatives of conservative ideologies are keen to take a hardline stance and further supress any deviation from expected gender norms. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council in the US proposes the following solution to the high LGBT suicide rate: "The most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts is not to create a ‘positive social environment’ for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual." This is actually a compromise on his desired aims – he’d rather see homosexual acts banned than simply repress self-identification of sexuality.

This repression is likely to be counter-productive – data is not the plural of anecdote – but hiding a large part of your identity can cause a lot of stress, especially when it comes to romance and relationships. The idea that being LGBT is something that should be hidden only gives further credence to the idea that these traits are shameful and clandestine – after all, talking about the day out you had with your same-sex partner is hardly material fit for casual conversation, is it?

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