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.