Holding somebody’s hand is a perfectly normal gesture. You are out somewhere with someone you like or even love and you want to be able to show them a bit of affection. Perhaps they have just said something overly cute, helped reassure you in a difficult situation or maybe you just want to let them know that you are there for them and enjoying that moment.
Now for a heterosexual individual or couple they wouldn’t really question the situation or place that it was about to happen in. But for someone who identifies as LGBT+, that very simple moment in time could feel like a mountain crushing down on them. LGBT+ people still grow up in a profoundly homophobic and transphobic society. Many often experience bigotry from the moment they start school which then sticks with them throughout their lives.
Some fear holding hands with their loved ones in the street. Internalising this rejection leads to much higher levels of mental distress among LGBT+ people and, with it, the corrosive self-medication of alcohol and drug abuse. According to Stonewall, almost half of trans pupils and students have attempted suicide. There are other injustices, too: up to a quarter of young homeless people are LGBT+, a gross over-representation. In 2016/17, the police recorded 9,157 sexual orientation hate crimes compared to the 4,345 that were recorded in 2011/12. Many feel, even within the LGBT+ community, that the attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender fluidity within our societies is improving. On the surface, through the political and corporate campaigns supporting pride, the overall view is that we are all moving forward, accepting each other for who we are and willing to live side by side without any harm towards each other. But in the true reality, if you look deeper within the communities that hold us together as a nation we are failing to support one another and show the respect that everyone deserves.
Pride is great and yes, homosexuality is becoming more officially accepted, but homophobia is still there. Although we can all come together for this one month and show that we support anyone of any sexual orientation, we need to ensure that we keep the spotlight on the areas that matter, as too often all the good that is created within pride is soon forgotten. Yes, social attitudes in Britain have shifted dramatically – and that’s down to LGBTQ+ people working alongside allies in order to highlight the importance of creating a safe atmosphere for everyone involved. Straight couples hold hands in the street without even thinking about it. For same-sex couples one of the most basic acts of human affection feels like a defiant political statement whether they like it or not.
A simple gesture should not lead to the constant fear of being shouted at, looked at, spoken about or even worse, beaten. Although most would say they wouldn’t react in a negative way when seeing a same-sex couple in public, there is still a large enough amount of society that frowns upon this. A large enough amount that can stop an individual from reaching out to their loved one. Sexual orientation hate crime was the second most commonly recorded hate crime in the vast majority of police forces (37 of 44) in the UK in 2016/17.
We must look at how we raise children from a young age. Often words like gay, queer, poof: are used towards boys – straight or queer – for behaviour that may be deemed “unmanly”. But it’s not just LGBT+ children that suffer, those that identify as straight also feel the effects of this. Too many young men are turning towards suicide from having emotions and feelings bottled up within them with a fear of talking about what they are going through as being seen as a bit ‘gay’. But for LGBT+ teenagers, it is considerably worse. Growing up internalising a sense of being inferior, of being dirty, of being wrong, causes incalculable damage.
Perhaps the fault of same-sex couples not being a comfortable sight for many is due to the lack of mainstream media coverage or representation. Yes we have many break-through characters appearing in soaps and films that are largely accessible, but the plots and storylines that they play in are still often surrounded by controversial issues. These storylines can help the LGBT+ community but may still push the larger society in thinking we are an alienated few. Why can we not have more LGBT+ characters appearing on our screens that simply go about in a ‘normal’ manner? Why is it often looked upon that if an LGBT+ character is to be introduced, it has to be in an explosive manner in which can have a negative effect on the actual community out in the real world?
Yes, it is getting better but the fact that it is getting better on the surface does not necessarily mean that on a larger scale across the whole country it is getting any easier. For LGBT+ individuals to be themselves openly in public for many is exhausting. From personal experience I can say that it is mentally draining and sends your anxiety through the roof. You find yourself constantly checking your surroundings, your heart beats faster than ever and the slightest unwelcoming look in your direction can send a shiver of panic through you. It is important to remember that us who identify as being in a same-sex couple must try to break this mould. With the support we give each other we can help build up the normality of same-sex couples stepping out into the public eye and live a life without fear. We aren’t asking for special treatment, we simply just want to be able to go around our daily routines with the support and love of our partners.