Russell T Davies' hit TV show It’s a Sin is a hard-hitting account of the injustices and gay shaming that plagued the LGBT+ community throughout the 1980s.

But what has it been like to grow up as an LGBT+ person in the twenty-first century? An LGBT+ kid in Coventry?

For thirty-three-year-old Michael Mullen, it was one of the most challenging times in his life.

“I found school incredibly difficult. I didn’t know how bad it would be from one day to the next and nine times out of ten I would go home feeling really down”.

He believed he was a target for bullies at secondary school because he had a voice and ‘feminine’ mannerisms.

The bullying was not limited to the playground, and he recalls having homophobic slurs thrown at him on the school bus regularly.

“It was difficult because I didn’t even know my own sexuality at the time”.

Michael’s mental health deteriorated throughout this period leading him to self-harm and he believes if he didn’t have his older brother to confide in, he may not have been here now.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. In 2017, a report by Stonewall found that 61% of LGB pupils had deliberately harmed themselves because of school bullying while 22% had attempted to take their own life. For trans pupils these figures were higher, rising to 84% and 45% respectively.

Though experiences of homophobic and biphobic bullying at school have declined since Michael went to school, LGBT+ young people are still twice as likely to be bullied as their heterosexual peers. Perhaps just as worrying, a 2017 report by NIESER found that 83% of serious incidents committed against them would go unreported. Common reasons given were ‘it happens all the time’, ‘nothing would change’ or ‘it wouldn’t be taken seriously enough’.

Robbie Young (33), a former National Union Students LGBT+ Officer, understands the negative impact this can have on LGBT+ young people. As a teenager, he internalised a lot of shame as a consequence of relentless bullying at school and Air Cadets for being gay.

The lack of support Robbie received at these institutions and a fear of how his family and peers might react to him embracing his sexuality, eventually played a part in his decision to leave Coventry.

“Moving away for me was a way of becoming who I wanted to be. If I had gone to Coventry University, I’d still be in the same street hiding who I was.

“You are made to feel bad about who you are, who you love, and how you feel”.

As Robbie progressed through university, he was able to relieve some of the shame he felt growing up and he channelled this into creating positive changes for the LGBT community.

“It took a long time to get rid of that shame and I didn't join my LGBT society in my first-year because I didn't see the point. I was one of those people who would say, ‘Oh, I'm gay, but I'm not that gay’.

“I started campaigning when I realised there is so much wrong with society. I began to realise I was not the problem.

“If I had stayed in Coventry, I am not sure how involved or outspoken I would have been on gay rights or LGBT rights in general”.

For thirty-two-year-old Katie Sullivan, her experience of school differed to both Michaels and Robbies which she puts down to the lack of knowledge surrounding LGBT relationships.

“I didn’t hear of any gay people, so I never had a chance to explore it myself. It was just never a thought process, I thought I was straight.

“Everyone used to fancy my boyfriend at school, and I thought I must do too.

“But you don’t understand that feeling [sexual attraction] until you have actually had it”.

For Katie, anxiety came when she had to tell some of her close friends about her sexuality, aged 19. Growing up, they had shared intimate moments and she feared it would change the relationship between them.

“I was really scared they might think it was because of them… that it was something deeper rooted.

“It was difficult for them at the start and they didn’t really grasp it 100%. They were a bit bemused because I had been with men, like many people were.

“This is why people can have a massive lack of empathy because unless they have physically been through something themselves, it is difficult to put themselves in that mind frame”.

Fast forward to 2021 and how LGBT-inclusive is the UK as a whole?

The latest LGBT survey carried out in 2017, showed that just over half of its respondents (56%) felt comfortable being LGBT+ in the UK. Two thirds (68%) still avoided holding hands in public for fear of negative reactions, and 40% had experienced verbal harassment or threats of violence in the year preceding the survey.

For Robbie, education and dispelling the myths around LGBT+ people is key to tackling discrimination.

“My view on life is different from 20 years ago and I believe in compromise, co-operation and negotiation.

“If someone were to say they didn’t like LGBT plus people, I’d ask them exactly what it is they didn’t like.

“I know I’m not going to meet everyone’s view, but there are lots of stuff that people can agree on and as long as it's consensual, safe, and legal, then what’s the point?”

Robbie now works as governor for a school in Manchester which he is proud to say have fully embraced LGBT-inclusivity into its education.

From summer 2021, all schools in England – including independent and faith schools – must teach LGBT+ content in Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), in line with government guidance set out by the Department of Education (DfE) in 2019.

As every young person should receive an education that reflects the full diversity of the world around us, let us hope these changes bring our LGBT+ young people a future without exclusion.

Engineering student Ahmad sits, alone in his room, staring at a bottle of sleeping pills. Taking all those pills, he thinks, will solve all of his problems.

In 21 August 2017 the National student survey revealed that 82% of students at UK universities suffer from stress and more worrying than that, one in five students have had suicidal feelings. Students who have poor organizational skills tend to experience more stress in schools and colleges, usually because they are not properly prepared for the challenges ahead of them. Lack of support from parents and teachers can also add a lot of stress in students and they may feel that a lot is expected from them. This is a cause of stress that can affect hard working students in particular. 

“Student’s stress is higher than general public,” says Doctor Abdullah Umer Rehan Physiatrist in city hospital Peterborough. “Approximately 80% in random stressed students did not get the mental health care they needed, stressed students cannot learn and also that stressed students are more abused more than others when they are in stress.” 

There is no specific treatment for stress. “But there are some treatments which could help,” says Dr Abdullah. “Talking with trained professionals can help you learn to deal with stress; Cognitive behaviour therapy is a type of talking treatment which helps you”. The expert also left some advice for people who are struggling with this problem: “Talk with someone who could not judge you, do some exercise. Swimming is a better option, watch entertaining movies, spend time with family, read books, do not stay alone, try to be social and creative, try to love yourself, these things, help to resolve complicated feelings or try to find a way to live with them.” 

Stress manifests itself when people feel burdened and they do not know how to overcome those problems. Some students have study tension when their exams are near or when their projects deadlines are closing, and in many cases, students stress more about their love life then their studies. There is also work tension, when people feel big amounts of pressure to finish their tasks in the intended. 

“I am always in stress because I have a lot of pressure from University,” says Muhammad Pasha, a physiotherapy student at Coventry University. He complains stress has taken over his life and that all he does is think about university tasks and little more than that. He even claims that they gave me a lot of work to do, “I have a lot of assignments, presentations, and exams, I cannot eat properly I cannot sleep properly, I have a lot of pain in my shoulders, my mind always stuck in studies. Sometimes I motivate myself saying that these problems are temporary, but somehow I am not getting out of this problem”. 

Ahmad, the mechanical engineering student from University of central Peterborough thought seriously about suicide due to all the pressure he was feeling but he never took those sleeping pills. “I could not handle the pressure of work and study at same time; this pressure brings anxiety, depression, tension and stress together and I cannot manage both things. With this I feel pain in my shoulders, I feel lazy and I get headaches. I’m also irritated by usual things, sometimes I cannot even breathe easily. Some days ago, I visited my family doctor, who claimed this was all because of stress, he gave me some medicines and further recommended me to join the gym, and go out for morning walks to get rid of this problem”.

Ahmad is doing better and with a smile on his face he confesses that “I’m feeling better now because i have finished my exams”. 

Journalism lecturer Andrew Noakes found himself at the centre of a news story when the train he was travelling on caught fire. Here’s his account.

“OK, who pressed the button?” For passengers crammed onto the 8.09am Arriva Wales Trains service from Wolverhampton to Birmingham International this morning the ring of an alarm bell was just another annoyance to add to the morning’s drizzle and the late running of their train.

But it was about to become more than just an irritation.

Passengers from the front half of the four-carriage train began streaming down the gangway into the rear of the train where I was, saying they had been told to move because the train was on fire.

As the bell continued to sound the train braked to a stop, unexpectedly, at Smethwick Rolfe Street station and the train manager’s voice crackled over the tannoy.

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Two fire engines attended the scene, and Rolfe Street was closed to traffic Picture: Andrew Noakes

“This is a special announcement,” he said. “Would passengers please leave the train and move to the exit of the station. There is a fire on the train.”

Dutifully we stepped out onto the platform and climbed the narrow staircase to Rolfe Street, which runs above the station on a Victorian brick bridge. Near the top I was met by one of the station staff clambering down – carrying two fire extinguishers.

Arriva Trains Wales has the oldest rolling stock in Britain. In September, policy director Roger Cobbe told the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee that ATW's trains were on average over 25 years old. "Some of our trains have done 4.5 million miles and are 30 years old," he told MPs. "There has been a colossal rise in the number of people using trains. Yet we haven't been able to order any new rolling stock because there is no spare capacity across the whole of Britain."

The ageing trains provide a maintenance headache for ATW. "The trains have to work very hard and our engineers have to work very hard to keep them going. Occasionally there are problems," Cobbe told the committee.

While we don't yet know what caused the fire on this train, its age could well have been a factor.

As passengers trooped off the train there was no panic, no pushing – just an orderly procession of 500 or so people towards the exit, some of them glancing over their shoulders at the ominous black column of smoke rising from the second carriage.

Most had reached the road by the time the first fire engine arrived from Smethwick at 8.36am, closely followed by a police car. A second fire engine arrived at the scene at 8.38am, and the emergency services began to close Rolfe Street to traffic while they made the train safe.

 “It was under the carriage we were in,” one train passenger told me. Another summed up the general mood: “Typical,” he said. “The train I decide to get on bursts into flames.” 

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Police vehicles close Rolfe Street to traffic while the fire is attended to Picture: Andrew Noakes