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FIRST PERSON: Young, healthy male, 21, seeks equality

OK, so the closet is no longer your home. You have bid ‘Goodbye’ to those wooden doors that kept you hidden from the world for so long. ‘Hello’, you have said to the fresh air and honesty you longed for so badly when you were hiding between those clothes hangers. But what do you do now? Coming out has consumed the near entirety of your thoughts — your fears, anger, silent tears, hopes and dreams. For many, telling your mates, colleagues and family members you are gay tops the of the list of hardest things to face. If they were to make a TV show of my 40 biggest life moments, ‘coming out’ would be a sure fire top five.

When you think back to that momentous moment, do you see it as a huge relief? A challenge you are now glad is over? An enormous weight off your chest? For me, I certainly regard it as being the most defining moment in my life up to now.  I find myself referring to my life as either being before or after coming out: B.C.O. and A.C.O, if you will.

On the other hand, maybe it does not sit amongst your top 40 moments. It could have been more of an anti-climax, a painful experience or a strange day, long forgotten. Whatever your experiences, whether you are ‘out’ or not, or ever if you are gay/straight/bi/trans, i just wanted to share my own experiences and thoughts on the matter in the hope that is holds pertinence for at least some of you.

Coming out was amazing for me, and the courage displayed by many people in doing so is truly inspirational to see. I am a strong encourager of those who have chosen to come out, as well as a supporter for those who have good reason for not being overt about their sexuality. After all, should the LGBT community feel pressured into outwardly declaring their sexuality by a society that likes nothing more than the opportunity to pigeon hole it’s members?  If you have just come out, well done you. No more hiding away in the shadows, no more feelings of doubt or insecurity. You should feel proud, liberated and truly ‘you’. In coming out, you have turned a corner, which will likely change you greatly and hopefully positively

The concept of ‘coming out’ got me thinking and wondering about life after the ‘big reveal’. What’s it like after having exposed such a personal part of your life for all to see, like tourists wondering around London Zoo. I doubt that everything that is on display is so gay (the happy kind). Just like my wardrobe at home, it is probably a mix and match of the beautiful and the unsightly. Not so much because of the person you are, but more because of the experiences you have been though. Both good and bad moments make it onto our top 40.

I am also pretty certain that coming out does not solve all the problems you may have, even if it does now mean that you can face them from a much stronger and honest position. However, at least it’s a start.

Our cultural views of sexuality have changed to an unrecognizable degree in this country over the past 100 years.  Men and women are no longer thrown in jail for ‘sexual deviance’.  Gay couples can undertake civil partnerships, can adopt children and the recent Equal Marriage Bill stormed through the Commons.  Write papers on the reasons and implications of these changes, and theorise about the impact of equal marriage on society, if you wish, but what matters is what life is like for the LGBT community in their day to day lives.  Are we now equal in the eyes of society and the law or, in the words of the great George Orwell, are some more equal than others?

Discrimination is still there — ‘gay bashing’ still happens on our streets with alarming regularity.  We still hear about homophobic slurs being thrown around within the Premiership.  It seems that, whilst on paper equality is certainly within our grasp, the situation on the street is somewhat different. Of course, I would love for LGBT folk to not face any form of discrimination, and be seen as completely equal but is that an unrealistic utopian ideal?

I am not so sure. I know that day to day life is simpler for those who fall into the “straight mould”, based on the fact that heterosexuality is the apparent status quo and there are fewer barriers, fewer prejudices and fewer questions asked, but it is naive to think that life is simple for anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

I would hope, though, that sexual equality remains our aim. The LGBT community in the UK cannot rest on it’s laurels and give up the fight for equality because we think we’re nearly there. Let’s not fall at the last hurdle.  There is still work to be done, and there are still people who need our support — those young gay men and women who are struggling to come to terms with their own burgeoning sexuality and are fearful of how coming out will effect their lives.  Will their family still love and support them in the same way they did before?  Will their sexuality effect the way they are treated by those around them?  Will their mates still want to be mates?

Silence hurts. More than the hurtful words of others, I think. So, maybe our fight for equality is not to be found in the law courts or the House of Commons, but instead in the minds and hearts of the individual. Listening to a person, offering respect and accepting them for who they are without prejudice or judgement, even if their lifestyle or beliefs don’t fall in line with your own, is where true equality lies.  This applies to religion, gender, socio-economic status and ethnicity as well as sexuality.  When an individual can be judged for what’s in their heart and mind, rather than what religion they follow, where they were born, who they are sexually attracted to, how much they earn or what gender they are, THAT is when we all have true equality.

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