THE BLOG

Let's Come Out to Stamp Out Homophobia, Together

10/10/2014 14:47 BST | Updated 10/12/2014 10:59 GMT

What unites nearly one in ten strangers across the country? It's something that nothing can prepare you for, no matter how many times you stand in front of the mirror and say the words. For some of us, it's a moment to embrace, for others it sadly remains a moment to fear and unfortunately for a small section of us it remains a moment they will never be able to have. For coming out and uttering the words, "I am different" was for me and millions of others a moment in our lives that we will never forget.

This Saturday sees a global celebration titled 'Coming Out Day' which started in the US back in the late 1980s. Fast forward over two decades and as a movement, we have made so much progress, in particular here in Scotland where national newspapers and particular business figures came out in support of retaining the discriminatory Section 28. This year same-sex couples will have the right to tie the knot and we showed governments across the Commonwealth, some of which still enforce the death penalty for gay activity, that everyone has the right to be in love thanks to Mr Barrowman's display of affection.

However we may have the law on our side when it comes to rights and protection against discrimination, but for many young people in particular, homophobia still remains unchallenged in our schools. I wouldn't want to paint a false picture that homophobic bullying was an issue I faced while at school, however little was done to educate people about same-sex relationships and often comments were said in classrooms that went by unchallenged by some teachers.

Not educating young people and talking about these issues, is simply irresponsible. We hear rumours in school that you can't get pregnant if you stand up or juggle oranges while having sex: that's where the education system comes in as teachers are required to tell the facts about sex through informing students.The exact same needs to happen in regards to same-sex relationships because soon it will be the norm for some students to have two married dads or two married mums - their peers need to be informed about same-sex relationships and not left to form their opinions on mere playground gossip.

For a 16 year old who is confused about their sexuality, to hear, "...that's so gay" on a daily basis in the classroom, they look to their teachers to take a stand and stamp out any behaviour, with absolutely no hesitation. I know that the majority of our teachers would do this, however all teachers must be more confident to tackle this issue straight away.

Figures from Stonewall Scotland revealed that 52% of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils experience homophobic bullying in schools. Even more worrying is that 26% of young gay Scots have attempted to take their own lives, with a further 54% deliberately harming themselves.

That's why it's very encouraging to see LGBT Youth Scotland tackle this issue head on with their powerful campaign 'Shh - Silence Helps Homophobia'. I would call on everyone to take a few minutes to watch the video the organisation put together and I'm convinced all of us, LGBT or not, can relate to the themes throughout the film which shows how different things could be if we speak up when we hear homophobia, of any kind.

My experience of coming out was an overall positive one with both friends and family being very supportive and for the majority of my friends they had a similar experience. However finding the confidence to do so, begins with young people not feeling they need to hide who they are through creating safe and tolerant environments in our schools.

Some things teenagers face will always be the same no matter what; peer pressure, body image worries, exam stress but homophobia is something we can end. We all know of someone in our family, our neighbourhood or workplace who is part of a sexual minority, so stamping out lack of tolerance isn't just for the one in ten, it's for each and every one of us.

Questions have been asked where and what is next for the equality movement - I believe it doesn't lie in lobbying politicians, but taking a mirror to our society and ensuring we never become complacent to tackling prejudice and discrimination.

Let us stand proud, not just on Saturday but every day of the year and work together to create a country where coming out is something to enjoy and celebrate, without any fear or hesitation.