Have you ever felt lost? Alone? Confused, frightened, trapped in your own head? Have you ever wanted to change yourself? Have you ever felt suffocated by a society that tells you that, in order to fit in, you should be something that you're not? Have you ever considered suicide?
I have. As a young gay kid enclosed within the heteronormative society in which we live - I struggled. I'm not alone - things can get tough for LGBT youth, and there are a rack of statistics that highlight the serious situation that we are faced with. Its been about seven or so years since I felt that way, but I've only recently started talking about it. Why? Because last year, I met someone who has now become a very close friend of mine - Liam. A fellow advocate of Scottish independence, its a wonder that we didn't run into each other throughout the referendum, but - at a food bank fund raiser that he had organised - we crossed paths, and clicked instantly.
To cut a long story short - Liam and I developed a pretty strong and rare level of friendship quite quickly: because we saw ourselves in each other. We've got the same character traits, the same insecurities, the same seemingly confident exterior. So it wasn't long before our long political chats turned personal, and I opened up to him. About everything. He knocked down walls that had been carefully built and he helped me overcome many of my demons.
From thereon out, my fight became his and we started thinking about how we could make changes to ensure that, one day, no more kids would have to struggle. Where do we start? Education. Utilising connections made during our time in left wing politics, we eventually launched a grassroots campaign - TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) - and we filed a petition with the Scottish Parliament, calling for an LGBT inclusive education to be statutory across all schools.
Whilst the LGBT community has made progress, there are still some real issues holding it back. The education system being one. At my lowest point, I was in secondary school - being reminded repeatedly that if anyone was being bullied on grounds of religion or race then they could speak to someone and it would get sorted: but what if someone was being bullied for being gay? "Homophobia" was a term that was ignored; despite the use of homophobic language and the derogation of kids who appeared to be gay being two of the biggest problems plaguing the hallways. In many schools - primarily faith schools - the social education being provided is abysmal. LGBT kids are being excluded.
Throughout this campaign, we've been encouraging others to speak about their experiences - just like I did. We're collecting stories from many people across the board who have struggled with self acceptance whilst at school, and we're gathering accounts as to what other schools are doing in relation to this issue. Some have been quite hard hitting and there's always a common thread - loneliness, depression, suicidal thoughts. Others have been positive - some schools are offering support and teaching on LGBT issues, and the effects have been beneficial for their LGBT pupils. We know that this initiative works: which further emphasises that this has to be implemented across the board. Social attitudes change and adapt - but they do so even quicker when they are influenced by legislation. It's thus vital that we address this issue from the top-down.
One of the important things for us about this campaign, is that it is not a gay issue. It's a humanitarian issue. When so many kids are feeling depressed and damaging themselves throughout their school life - simply because they're frightened of who they are - then we have a real problem in our hands, and the responsibility to tackle it lies with all of us. The best perspective on this, for me, comes from Liam. He has a four year old daughter - and he's aware that he most likely won't know her sexuality for a long time: but he wants to make sure that she never has to feel trapped or excluded during her time at school if she is LGBT. He wants to create a safe, inclusive learning environment within which all kids, regardless of sexual orientation, can prosper, develop and flourish.
Whilst we are campaigning in Scotland, we hope that we can spark enough debate and awareness that this issue can trickle down throughout the rest of the UK. We hope that others can see this campaign, and feel confident enough to kickstart their own. The time to get serious is now - if we allow another generation of LGBT youth to feel marginalised, isolated and excommunicated within their own schools - then we, as a society, have failed.