A family friend recently sounded me out for some important advice. Her son, at the fragile age of 15, had decided to inform her that he felt more attraction to his male classmates, than he did to his female classmates.
Without going all out and exclaiming he is gay, he asked his mum to understand the situation, and invited advice in return.
My friend, who I know and love well, told him not to worry about these feelings, that it is completely normal, and whatever becomes apparent in the future, he will be deeply loved and celebrated either way.
I don't think i could have handled the situation better myself. She showed her son that his happiness is paramount, and that her love to him will be unchanged whether he discovers he is gay or not.
It's a response that many of us could have only dreamed of, and he is very fortunate indeed... but I worry for him, still.
The protection his mother provides, the remainder of his family and even friends like me, is merely limited to a slight extent in this 21st century world we find ourselves living in. He isn't able to let his guard down yet; and the problem I fear, has a danger to escalate more so now than at any other point in recent times.
Imagine...you're 15. You're in a fragile state. Puberty brings many problems; problems that perhaps many of us have grown to forget. You go to school and you get teased for 'looking' gay; for 'sounding' gay. You run home after school to escape. In the safety of your own home, you switch on the TV and see people describing gay relationships as 'grotesque' or 'vile.' There seems to be no escape.
Can you imagine how this must feel?
Worse yet, imagine being the vile thug who bullies the same person for 'looking' or 'sounding' gay. You taunt him all day in the classroom. You make his life a misery. Then you go home, switch on the TV and see figureheads of the faith communities and politicians making the same homophobic statements that you've been handing out on the playground. It justifies your actions. Almost makes it okay. You feel good about it.
The two boys meet the following morning and the bullying continues.
You see, there is a great danger here. And this danger is something the opposition to equal marriage, mostly the church, has overlooked - the affect on gay people, but in particular, the affect on young gay people. The people who are most vulnerable.
I remember feeling isolated whilst I was going through my mid teenage years, and I know I'm not alone. I remember having these huge feelings that were completely impossible to ignore;
Fully out of my own control. I wish I'd had access to support, either through the internet or somewhere else. A gay friend perhaps? I wish there was a youth group for me to belong, who I could discuss my feelings and problems with safely. I wish I'd had the courage that my friend's son had last week, when he decided to let his feelings be known to his mother.
Yet I'm lucky that I didn't have to come out whilst a very public and very hurtful debate about gay relationships was being fought on a daily basis in the media, with people whom I might have once trusted, or looked up to brandishing me grotesque.
In a none judgemental way, I was asked earlier this week whether or not I thought the debate on equal marriage actually meant anything to us (as a community). The gentleman's personal approach to the subject was that whilst this debate was on going, we might be taking our focus off other important issues, one of which being homophobia in schools. I couldn't have disagreed more.
In my opinion, homophobia in schools goes hand in hand with the debate surrounding equal marriage.
Homophobia stems from ignorance; from a belief that gay people are less important than straight people.
Stating publicly that being in love and wanting to validate that love through marriage is okay for straight people, but not okay for gay people, is exactly the same as stating that gay people are less important than straight people. It is, in my opinion, the same as saying to my dear friend's son, "it's not okay for you to be gay", but also saying at the same time to a homophobic thug in a classroom, "well done, keep bullying gay people. It's wrong. Your actions are correct."
I challenge anybody to show me where it says in the Bible that it's okay to bully somebody. To single out somebody and make them feel less important than than the rest of society. To make their life a complete misery.
I was always taught that religion, Christianity in particular, is all about loving thy neighbour. About treating people with respect and that love and charity far out weigh hate and discrimination. Seemingly the complete opposite to the displays of faith, currently on offer in this country,
Before long, there will be victims out of this, and those victims will be our most vulnerable...Our youth.
And the church will once again, have blood on its hands.