Happy Pride Month everyone! I wanted to do something a little different with this post, in that rather than speak about a general term, I want to make a specific point about why Pride Month is still a thing. Most people are aware that there are countries where being queer places you in very real danger. Whether it be anti-LGBTQ laws or an undercurrent of bigotry within the general public, there are certainly places where a lot of work is still needed.
Then, there’s the UK. For the most part, we’re doing well. I don’t like to say that the law is on our side, as that kinda feels like those of us in the queer community have advantages. We don’t. UK law is fairly balanced insofar as it makes the worst kinds of bigotry a crime. The key point though is that we can, in theory, be open about our sexuality without fear.
In practice, that’s not always the case, mind you. You need only look at the incident where a lesbian couple were attacked on a bus or the gay couple that were attacked in Southampton to see that things are still bad. And look at the dates on those articles. November and December 2019. That’s less than a year ago. This is all very recent. Of course, these incidents were widely condemned; the vast majority of people are not going to go out and attack people due to them being LGBTQ. There clearly is still an underlying issue though.
If you read both articles, you may have noticed that the attackers in both cases were teenagers. Specifically teenage boys. That was a surprise for a lot of people at the time, I think. In general, teenagers now are more proactive in being in favour of equal rights. But, honestly, it didn’t surprise me as much as it did some. The reason for that is that I’ve seen this manifest at an even younger age. Again, the vast majority of people of all ages are great these days. But there are bubbles of hate, even in the youth. People also make mistakes.
I’m going to tell you a story about something that happened to me. This was not as bad as what happened to the people in the stories above, and I’m thankful for that. But it does illustrate a point.
I was doing a school run when one of my kids was still ten. What this meant for me was walking to the school, entering the school grounds, and waiting on the playground while the teachers finished up for the day. While I was waiting outside the classroom, two young boys in the classroom next to my child’s decided to have some fun. So, they opened their classroom door, and yelled, “Illuminati” at me.
I rolled my eyes. It was all very silly, right? Well, it got worse. When that didn’t get a response from me, they changed tact and started yelling, “You’re as bent as a log”, and, “You’re as straight as a roundabout.”
I was shocked. I’m open about my sexuality, but I don’t go around telling random people, especially children. I had also never seen these boys before. That meant that there wasn’t even a chance that I was open to their parents and they just overheard a conversation. My first thought was that it must be because I have long hair. Since growing it out, I’ve had a lot more thing yelled at me – usually by people in moving cars – so there’s obviously some subconscious link in people’s minds.
Then, the boys yelled something else. I won’t quote it in its entirety because it was, frankly, vile. It started with “gay boy” though and ended with something even worse.
So, I grabbed my kid, walked up to the classroom, and informed the teacher what the boys had done. To say the teacher was shocked would be an understatement. These boys were eleven. They were still young enough that you didn’t expect any real hate to come from them. The incident was passed to the headteacher, and I was called into a meeting after the boys – and their parents – had been spoken to.
What had happened was that the boys were repeating things they had heard presented as hilarious jokes on YouTube. I tended to believe this because, not only were the parents in full support of the kids being punished, one of them actually had a gay sibling. They had no idea what homophobia was, much less that what they were saying was homophobic.
The outcome was that the boys were punished appropriately. They also wanted to apologise in person, which I was happy to embrace. I had a chat with them – with the headteacher there, of course – and explained that they were lucky they’d picked on me in a way. I told them that if someone had been struggling with their sexuality and they’d done that, it could have really hurt them. I also explained that if they didn’t know what they said was bad, then it was better that they’ve made a mistake and learned from it now because it means they won’t keep saying it and get themselves in even more trouble when they’re older.
So, let that settle in for a moment. Eleven-year-olds were throwing out homophobic abuse and didn’t even know that’s what they were doing. In some cases like this, the parents play a big part in how their kids’ attitudes form. But here, that wasn’t the case. They said what they said because they heard it on YouTube.
I know that people get a little uptight about trying to remove words from certain circumstances. But let me be clear about this. I hate it when people use the word ‘gay’ to mean bad. But it’s very widespread. Language is powerful, and we don’t always appreciate what the effects of using certain words or phrases, or how we present them, has. This is an example of that.
On top of that, teaching pre-high school kids about the concept of LGBTQ people is still viewed as controversial. It really shouldn’t be. Teachers are equipped to teach all manner of things in an age-appropriate manner, but the concept itself gets a lot of push back. The big argument against bringing this into schools is often either ‘it will confuse the children’ or ‘but, my religion says it’s wrong’. Let’s look at both of these things.
Confusion doesn’t happen often. I taught my own kids about this stuff form a young age by using age-appropriate picture books and answering questions as they arose. On top of that, there were kids in that school with gay parents, and they were not walking around in a constant state of confusion. The key to any teaching is to pitch it the right way. Teachers can do that. If you’re simply worried about not knowing how to answer questions your kids have yourself? Teachers can help with that too, as can the mass of online resources that are available now.
The religious point is potentially thornier. I respect people’s rights to follow whatever religion, or indeed lack thereof, that they wish. But think about this: you may not think being queer is morally right. If it was your kid though, wouldn’t you want them to be equipped to deal with the emotions they’re experiencing?
If you can’t see the benefits to wider society in people being respectful to others that are different from them, then try looking at it from the viewpoint of ‘what if this affects my own children’. And if that still doesn’t make you see why it’s right to teach this stuff in schools, then you need to start looking deeper into what is going on in schools. From the theory of evolution, right down to the materials used in school uniforms, there are plenty of things that are technically against various religious texts. If you’re only focussing on the LGBTQ side of things, then it isn’t a religious battle anymore, it’s a personal prejudice.
So, to summarise. Pride Month is still needed. More so in some places than others, but even those of us living in a generally tolerant society have issues. And, in my opinion, change starts young. Those of us who create things for entertainment can do things to ensure that we’re not helping to raise the next generation of bigots, simply by modifying language. On top of that, the education system is a fantastic tool to teach equality, and that must include queer people. And believe me, we’re getting there. We’re making improvements. But there is still a distance to travel, even here in the UK.
Happy Pride Month everyone.