This week's announcement by 19 year old Olympic diver Tom Daley that he is in a relationship with a man highlights how far as a society we have come in being more open, understanding and tolerant towards others. His message quickly became a viral sensation with many media outlets covering the story. One commentator referred to Daley as being the highest profile sports star in the UK to come out as being in a homosexual relationship. What the 19 year old did has been branded as "brave" by many fans online. But this raises the question: why should it take bravery to be open in regards to your sexuality?
Soon, same-sex couples will have the right to tie the knot in England, Wales and Scotland thanks to successful campaigns and a fundamental shift in society's attitudes towards sexuality. There are countless successful LGBT celebrities and role models that young people can look up to now that no longer resemble a Mr Humphries-like character from Are You Being Served? Over the past 50 years the UK has made significant strides in journey to full equality which on the surface of things is pretty much complete - or is it?
For thousands of young LGBT people in the UK, their "coming-out" response was nothing like the support and warm wishes that Daley received from his fans. Many young people don't get the support from their parents, never mind from Kylie Minogue. Earlier this year the Guardian ran an article looking at safe houses for LGBT people aged between 16-25 in London and Manchester. These residents take refuge because they have been made homeless by their families or face the threat of violence or abuse at home. Upon his family finding out he was gay, one resident stated: "They said that basically, I had two options: I could stay with them and get 'cured' or I could leave".
It was revealed in the 2012 School Report by Stonewall that more than half (55%) of gay, lesbian and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying while at school. It is also clear that the use of the word "gay" as a derogatory term is rife within our schools, with 99% of pupils claimed to have heard phrases such as, "that's so gay". How can we expect young people who are often confused and worried about their emotions, feel comfortable to open up about their sexuality?
Through a previous job I delivered sessions in schools to engage young people on how they can have their say on issues that matter to them. We would discuss various issues such as independence, voting age and same-sex marriage. More often than not the atmosphere would change as soon as the topic of gay relationships was mentioned. Some schools would simply refuse to let their pupils discuss the matter, in others it was clear that there was real immaturity associated to with the issue. Neither of these situations are conducive tackling homophobic bullying or equipping young people with tolerant attitudes towards others. As a society we have made so much progress in stamping out racism in our schools, yet the same cannot be said for homophobia.
Children should not be brought up associating the word "gay" as being a negative term. Young people should not live in fear of being made homeless upon coming out as being gay, bisexual or transgender. As a society we should not settle for anything less than true equality for everyone.
What Tom Daley did is sadly still considered as being "brave" and it will continue to be so for as long as young people live in fear of revealing their sexuality. We must aim to develop the norms of society where by declaring your sexuality will be simply met with a smile or a shrug of the shoulders, as no one should have to be brave to be the person they are.