It’s a dull, damp Monday morning and I am walking along a road that leads to the school I went to as a youth. My heart begins to pound and I feel nauseous as I get closer. I know I’m returning to school as an adult, but my past experiences there still haunt me. A moment of doubt passes through my mind as I enter the gate, but it’s too late to turn back. Then I remember I’m there to make a difference, and walk through the door.
The reason I was returning to my school was in response to a request for assistance from them. They wanted to discuss homophobic bullying at the school and asked if I could spend some time supporting a young girl being bullied for being a lesbian. It was a significant life event for me as going back to school marked a huge turnaround. As a student, I had been severely bullied due to my sexuality and it went completely unchallenged for the whole time I was there. All these years later I was going back to ensure that history did not repeat itself.
During my time at school I was called names, hit, kicked, beaten, dragged around the floor by my hair, had drinks poured over me, got mugged of my wallet, and had my bike tyres slashed. The homophobic bullying was a daily occurrence from the age of eleven until I was sixteen. Teachers could see and hear what was happening, but never did anything to challenge it. I was not supported at any point during my time at school.
One day I stuck up for myself and punched a boy who had kicked me and called me a poof. However, I ended up being suspended for it. I tried to explain that I had been kicked and called a poof, but my head of year didn’t want to hear about it. The boy got away with what he did and I was excluded for several days.
Those experiences lived with me for some time and as I walked towards the school twelve years after leaving, realised that they still live with me. The emotional scars have never completely healed.
I recently bumped into an old teacher of mine at an event and had a discussion with her about the experiences I had. I’d met up with the same teacher a couple of years previously and had a similar conversation, but I thought it was important to bring it up again. I needed her to understand what I had been through and what young LGBTQ people are still going through today. My view is that all teachers need to have the facts hammered home if there is to be change.
Alongside my day job, I run the LGBTQ youth support charity Push Projects (and Warwickshire Pride). The reason I founded it is because I don’t want young people to go through the things I did as a kid. That’s my sole motivation. There were times I wanted to kill myself because the bullying was so bad. The school did nothing to support me and I felt completely alone. I felt like the school was killing me. Young people are still feeling the same way as I did all those years ago, and some of them actually go ahead and commit suicide. I felt I needed to do something about that, so I set about providing a support service for LGBTQ youth modelled on what I felt would have benefitted me as a young person.
The outcome of the experience is that I’ll hopefully be working regularly with the school and supporting their LGBTQ students. Although I felt sick as I approached, I left feeling proud that the school I went to was now doing all they can to ensure that LGBTQ students are adequately supported and that the bullies are dealt with through a mix of education and consequences for their actions.
Of course, I feel proud of myself too; not in a self-congratulatory way, but because I’ve managed to turn something so horrific into something that’s incredibly positive. There were times I was almost defeated.
There’s a long way to go before homophobic bullying in schools is wiped out, but progress is being made. The work of organisations such as Stonewall, Push Projects and other LGBT organisations, alongside the wonderful achievements of individuals such as Shaun Dellenty, are ensuring that the next generation of LGBTQ youth don’t have it as bad as us oldies did.