Looking back at my time in school, I can’t help but but think of a huge period of my life where I struggled with the feeling of a dark pit full of loneliness. I was trying to figure out – but at the same time hide – my LGBTQ+ identity.
It saddens me to think that young LGBTQ+ individuals may also be experiencing similar feelings to what I had in the past. Research by Just Like Us has shown that LGBTQ+ young people are at far higher risk of experiencing mental health issues compared to non-LGBTQ+ peers. We’re twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety, for example. But it’s no comfort to know that so many of us go through this.
When I was in secondary school, I felt like an enormous cloud of stress and anxiety was always lurking over me. I had to deal with a dreaded sexuality crisis and I had to deal with it alone.
I felt lucky that I could openly discuss my worries and doubts about the “normal” teenage stressors with my teachers, friends and family and feel comforted by their shared experience or advice. Yet I dared not to open the sacred box in my mind full of anxieties around my sexuality.
I didn’t even want to open this box to myself, let alone share my fears and worries with others. Ultimately, this led to me sinking into a pit of loneliness.
During my time at school, there was very limited (if any) talk of anything positive around being LGBTQ+. Instead, the crowded corridors boomed with hateful homophobic chatter. Teachers stood silently, acting like they did not hear a thing.
Bystander students would be forced to laugh along, because if you didn’t find their homophobic jokes funny, then you must be gay! And nobody wanted to be the next in line to be bullied.
Every time I would hear this hateful language, it pushed me even further into the closet. I felt more and more isolated, alone with my thoughts of just wishing I was “normal”.
I tried my best to convince myself that I was. I hopelessly attempted to talk to boys and talk about male celebrity crushes – when all I was thinking about was how Shay Mitchell was so much better than all the mediocre men they were talking about.
As for the relationship and sex education at my school, I do not recall there being any mention of LGBTQ+ relationships or anything positive about being LGBTQ+. It was not inclusive in the slightest – everything was about heterosexual relationships.
I often wonder how different my experience growing up could have been if the school made an effort to be inclusive to LGBTQ+ students.
School could have been my safe haven. It could have been somewhere where I felt comfortable to talk about the mixture of emotions I was feeling. Somewhere that made me feel less ashamed of who I was. Somewhere that gave me hope that I would still be able to live an amazing life, despite the barriers I may face being LGBTQ+. And somewhere that I could escape from feeling so alone.
But this was not my reality. School was far from a haven and instead became a dreaded hell that only worsened my mental health.
That does not have to be the reality of schools today and I hope that more teachers will take action with the help of Just Like Us, and that more LGBTQ+ students can have a school that is a safe space.
You might be thinking that growing up LGBTQ+ is easier these days but half (48%) of young people still get little to zero positive representation in school.
It’s so important that schools ensure they provide inclusive education for their students. Even by having positive language in school around being LGBTQ+ this can improve the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people.
Just Like Us’ research found that LGBTQ+ people who hear positive messages about being LGBTQ+ in their school are less likely to contemplate suicide.
Schools can also allow LGBTQ+ students to have a safe space at school by introducing Pride Groups. These groups are student-led and allow LGBTQ+ and ally students to discuss how the school can help reduce anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, whilst also giving them a sense of community and reducing their loneliness.
Even more, schools should celebrate School Diversity Week, an event which aims to spread positive messages and raise awareness around being LGBTQ+.
I know that just a week of LGBTQ+ positivity in school would have made such a huge positive difference to me.
So, if you’re reading this, please take action. No LGBTQ+ young person deserves to have those heavy grey clouds weighing over them.