As LGBT History Month kicks of in the UK, Torsten Højer imagines the future of coming out to younger siblings in a more educated world.
My father told me, over a few too many Christmas beers, that my two half-brothers (neither of whom I live with) are "getting better" with the idea of me being gay. He revealed, in the same breath, that when he first filled them in on my sexual persuasion, there was a resounding burst of disgust from both of their mouths—something resembling an ‘ewww’ (presumably coupled with a screwed up face and a marked frown).
"They’re only young," father offered, apparently noticing a change in my facial expression.
My mind raced as he carried on. They’re only young? Yes, they are—they were 13 and 15 a year ago, when informed of their older brother’s ‘abnormality.' But how is this an excuse? Of course, Christmas is traditionally a time for family argument, so to break the habit of a lifetime, I left the discussion there, hoping for peace amongst men.
What I really wanted to understand is how my father could think that his kids are born bigoted gay-haters. His view is probably that everyone intrinsically hates gays, and that they are learning to tolerate homosexuality, as he is.
In fact, come to think of it, he also told me that if I had come out to him 20 years ago, instead of 10, he wouldn’t have "looked so kindly upon me."
It’s a common belief that children aren’t born with an in-built bent for homophobia, and that it is in fact learned. So how did my two half-brothers learn to detest the idea of two men having sex, or even displaying affection to one another?
As February kicks off, so does the annual UK LGBT History Month. On the official website are written these words:
"Since 1997, the position of LGBT people [in the UK] has improved as a result of human rights legislation. Transsexual men and women are now able to assert their gender on passports and birth certificates. Section 28 [which prevented the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools in the UK] was repealed in 2003. Since 2010 we have had a single Equality Act that includes sexual orientation and gender reassignment among its protected characteristics. A crime with a homophobic motive is now a hate crime. LGB people can enter civil partnerships and enjoy the same pension rights as heterosexual couples. We have become visible in the media, from Saturday night TV and soap characters to dramas and documentaries about our LGBT ancestors. Out and proud gay and lesbian politicians sit in parliament in all the major parties. We have begun to deal with the legacy of silence in our schools, places of work and our public institutions."
Schools. They’re the frontline now, aren’t they? My brothers are just about to complete high school and they’re still less-than-keen on the whole gay thing. But do they understand what being gay is? Or what it means?
The organizers of UK LGBT History Month know that education is key in combating homophobia. "Schools have a crucial role in educating for equality," they say. "They have a responsibility to all pupils to prepare them for adult life in the real world."
Damn right they do. If my brothers learned as part of their routine lessons throughout school that gay people have been some of the most brilliant (and, of course, fabulous) inventors, artists, scientists, etc., then wouldn’t they be equating me with positive images of gay men? Would their reaction to my homosexuality have been changed from "ewwww" to "wow, just like that amazing inventor!" if they had received a bit of all-encompassing education?
I think it would.
The British Independent on Sunday newspaper recently asked readers to nominate the unsung heroes and heroines who make life as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person better—as well as the celebrities who make the world a more entertaining place.
More than 1,500 nominations were received, and the ‘winner’ announced. Interestingly, it wasn’t a celebrity, but Elly Barnes, a teacher who claims the exceptional achievement of eradicating homophobia in her school.
Since 2005, Elly has been running LGBT History Month at Stoke Newington School, North London, every February. She says, "I've had pupils say, 'Miss, are you trying to turn us gay?' and I ask them, 'Do you turn black during Black History Month or Turkish during Turkish month?'" Barnes 'came out' on Teachers' TV, and says, "It's ignorance that causes homophobia—once educated, attitudes change. Sometimes it's a deep-rooted hatred which takes a long time to change. The best way is to show positive role models.”
Of course it is. And thankfully the UK now offers plenty to choose from. Perhaps, then, with initiatives in schools such as Elly Barnes’s program, little brothers everywhere may not be only encouraged to tolerate their older gay siblings, but be instantaneously proud of them.
For more about UK LGBT History Month, visit lgbthistorymonth.org.uk
For more about the Independent on Sunday’s ‘Pink List’, visit independent.co.uk/news/people/news/the-ios-pink-list-2011-2374595.html