I am gay.
I was born in 1972. Grew up in rural Australia. I didn't 'come out' to my friends until I was 24 and I waited until I was 26 before I was brave enough to come out to my family.
My over-riding memory of that time was the drama in the Australian state of Tasmania, when gay rights activists Nick Toonen and Rodney Croome led the campaign for homosexuality to be decriminalised in that state - under Tasmanian legislation the offense was punishable by up to 25 years in jail. Toonen and Croome were ultimately successful and, following a complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the offense was finally removed in 1997 - Tasmania was the last Australian state to decriminalise gay male sexual conduct.
The past is, of course, a different country - they do 'do things differently there', and I think it's important that we don't let our memories and our past experience limit us from shaping the future for ourselves and the younger generations of gay men.
Marriage equality is an obvious battleground for today and is receiving particular attention in countries such as the UK, the US and Australia. It is easy to see why this is an emotive topic for both sides of the campaign, but there is almost an inevitability that the logic of equality will prevail.
But what of tomorrow? What issues and challenges will confront gay men and demand action and change?
Here's five hot topics that might catch the attention of future gays:
There are still a surprising number of countries around the world where men who have sex with men are punished by imprisonment or death. Not only is this bad news for the men who live in these countries, but it also limits the ability of gay men to work and travel internationally? It's hard to get excited about the lucrative transfer to Dubai if your sex life could land you in prison. Even seemingly modern Singapore still maintains laws that criminalise gay male sexual conduct - prosecutions are rare but why tolerate the hypocrisy. We need to continue to push for legal change around the world to protect the human rights of all gay men.
Gay men are still being infected with HIV and not enough money is being spent on prevention campaigns, let alone finding a vaccine or cure. Research tells us that if you have been diagnosed with HIV, and have commenced medication, you are much less likely to infect other men (the medication reduces your viral load and therefore this makes you less infectious). Research also suggests that of the new infections being detected, the majority of these are young gay men. We need to continue to push the world's health services to invest in the research required to develop a vaccine or cure for HIV. We also need to support (financially and with volunteer time) those community organisations who lead HIV prevention campaigns and support gay men who have the virus.
3. Mental Health:
Gay men are something like two to three times more likely to suffer from the entire range of psychiatric problems - including depression; anxiety; panic; substance abuse; and suicide. The research is not saying that being gay makes you mentally ill, but we are seeing that gay men have a unique set of challenges and a stressful social environment that is contributing to these higher rates of mental health problems. We need to push health services around the world to invest in mental health services for gay men. We also need to support (financially and with volunteer time) those community organisations who support gay men are dealing with mental health issues.
One of the most powerful ways to emotionally connect with people is through sport. Elite sportspeople are role models for the world; participation in sport builds confidence as well as important social and professional networks. There is some fantastic work being done at the grassroots level around the world to encourage gay men to participate in sport - organisations such as the Federation of Gay Games, the Gay & Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA) are facilitating an international network of LGBT sports clubs that are effectively engaging with their local communities. We need to push national and international governing bodies of sports to help nurture this grassroots activity but we also need to push ourselves to continue to expand this network of LGBT sports clubs into communities and countries where we continue to see low levels of participation.
The days are over when being gay was a weakness, that is was an insult to call something or someone 'gay'. One of the flip-sides into the recent research regarding mental health issues in gay men is that there are indications that being gay is a strength - that gay men are forced to develop coping mechanisms and psychological flexibility that gives us greater resilience in stressful situations. Gay men will always be a minority population group (somewhere between 2%-5% of males) but we punch well above our weight in terms of share-of-voice and contribution to the community and society in which we live. We need to work with schools and community organisations to empower young gay men to understand their potential and their power.
Future gays. It's time to take charge.