Although the ‘yoots’ of today are feared by much of the majority culture, it is often believed that it is the older generations who hold ‘outdated’ homophobic views.

But are the young really more liberal? Do Generations Y and Z hold more enlightened beliefs when it comes to sexual orientation and (trans)gender diversity?

With the announcement this week that Paris Brown, Youth Crime Commissioner for Kent Police, will escape criminal prosecution I can’t help but question whether she is simply a misguided, isolated individual or worryingly representative of her demographic. Were violent, racist, homophobic and drug endorsing rants on Twitter really just “showing off”? Using homophobic language such as “fags,” the 17-year-old also tweeted that she wanted to “cut” someone.

Despite a welcomed apology and publicly denying she is homophobic, it is her excuse which leaves me concerned.

Brown insists she “can’t imagine that [she is] the only teenager to have done this.” Even Kent Police’s local Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes defended her, going so far as to suggest “many young people go through a phase during which they make silly, often offensive comments and show off on Facebook and Twitter.”

Really? So we should expect and excuse this? If that is the expectation of a police commissioner then what hope do we have for other ‘average’ young people? Do we really think it is common and acceptable to make offensive and aggressive comments on social media or indeed in schools, the street – at work? Especially as she wasn’t simply teenager in their room on a computer or smartphone; she was paid to support and represent the diverse communities that Kent, and other forces, serve. She was in a position of responsibility.

Was this behaviour just typical of the young as dismissed by her lawyers and employer? I really hope not as it means we have an even harder task on our hands. Indeed Stonewall’s annual Equality Walk taking place again in Brighton this year will need to raise even more money if Brown is your average teenager.

The walk aims to raise awareness and funds to help tackle homophobic bullying in schools, an institution that produces many average teenagers, many just like Brown. It is truly timely and necessary work they are doing. But to reach this group is it not pertinent to represent them, much like Kent police attempted to do with Brown in the first place? How many school-aged, young people are actually designing the ways which Stonewall and teachers engage with them? To catch a monkey you need to think like one (and it’s not always slowly).

At the Stonewall Equality Dinner last week Deputy Chief Executive for Stonewall Laura Doughty highlighted that “[h]omophobia remains a huge problem in Britain’s schools… We know we face a huge challenge in making homophobia thing of the past.”

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The event was supported by several key figures in the LGBT and wider community – but how many were from this target, younger generation? Although integral to the fight for equality there needs to be more resilience amongst the fundraising elite.

Where is the next generation of campaigners at these events? Sir Elton John, Graham Norton, Gok Wan and Clare Balding but no sign of anyone actually part of the young communities they are also seeking to support. I should imagine that Ian McKellen doesn’t need protecting from homophobic bullying in school anymore.

Active support from straight allies such as MPs John Bercow, Nick Herbert and Diane Abbott is not mirrored by heterosexual supporters amongst the next generation. Although I appreciate this event is a fundraiser – and perhaps prices out the younger audience – its press coverage sends a message that can appear disproportionate and unrepresentative.

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Looking forward it is important not to dismiss the young as naive and ignorant. They are the next leaders and agents of socio-political change. We cannot afford to ignore the misdemeanours of those in power but we also cannot forget who is next into those positions of responsibility and influence. So as Paris goes back to her average life who is the next Youth Commissioner? Will we have higher expectations of this one? But also, who is next on the invite to the Stonewall awards or popping up in schools to talk to people of their own age?


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About the author: Peter Richards
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.