A vote for enlightenment

At this year’s RCN congress in Bournemouth, a resolution is being debated that is close to my heart: improved mental health services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Picture credit: Alamy

I know from experience that growing up gay is isolating, and that adolescence is not easy. For the majority of people, the teenage years are a time for exploration, but many gay men go through this time alone. Few of us have the courage to ‘come out’ at a young age and so do not get to enjoy many of the milestones experienced by our peers, such as the first kiss or first relationship. These events are consigned to later life.

Sex education at my school made no mention of homosexual relationships, and while I have grown up in a time where same-sex couples are seen as equal, my friends and I have still been victims of homophobic abuse.

There is no easy way to describe what it is like to grow up knowing that you are gay, terrified to tell your friends and family for fear of a negative response. Thankfully, my own fears were misplaced, as my friends reacted positively and my family, after a time, also became comfortable with my sexuality.

But for too many LGBT young people, that is not the case. They have to choose between living life as their true selves and becoming outcasts from their family or peer groups, and living a lie.

Sadly, it is believed that one in four homeless young people in the UK identifies as LGBT. The LGBT charity Stonewall reports that nine out of ten secondary school teachers and two out of five primary school teachers say young people experience homophobic bullying, regardless of sexual orientation. Given these circumstances, is it any wonder that depression, anxiety and suicide all have a higher incidence among the LGBT population?

In 78 of the world’s nations, being who I am is illegal, and in five of those it is punishable by death. I am fortunate enough not to have experienced the hatred or violence shown to so many of those who identify as anything other than heterosexual. But I have felt lonely, confused and different, and wished I was ‘normal’.

As a grown man, I am comfortable in my own skin, but I often do not tell my patients I am gay for fear of a negative reaction. I will hold hands in the street with a partner, but only if I feel ‘safe’.

That is why this resolution is so important. LGBT people need increased support from mental health services because they are more likely to require them. This resolution will help ensure that the RCN works to make the lives of LGBT people in the UK that little bit better – not just young people, but people of all ages.

To those who do not support individuals identifying as homosexual, perhaps for religious reasons, I have no intention of challenging your views and I respect your right to your beliefs.

My gran – my inspiration for entering nursing – was deeply religious. I was terrified about telling her I was gay, even though she was my best pal. On the day my mum told her, as I sat in the room wishing I was anywhere but there, she looked me square in the eye, and said: ‘So what. That’s the way god made you.’

I didn’t choose to be gay. After reading this, would you?

RCN congress 2015 takes place in Bournemouth from June 21-25

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