Beyond the binary: LGBT+ visibility

March 21, 2024

Photo by cottonbro studio at Pexels

Kirsty Boyen and her friends unpack their perspectives on gender and sexuality

In this conversation with my friends from The Compton School, we shed light on the current landscape of LGBT+ visibility, both within schools and beyond. Drawing from our personal experiences and observations, we delve into the strides we’ve seen, the hurdles we face, and the pressing need for more inclusive spaces.

Through our dialogue we emphasise the pivotal role of LGBT+ education, representation in TV and film, the role of social media and an inclusive school environment. We want to create a future where every young person feels acknowledged and supported. We also discuss how cultures and religions around the world have differing attitudes to LGBT+ equality.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Here are the highlights from our discussion ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Williette: I feel like it’s not taboo to talk about being LGBT anymore. When we were younger in secondary school, teachers were hesitant to address it openly. For example, one of my friends was a lesbian and she wanted to talk to a teacher about it. They brushed it off, saying, “this isn’t the right time to discuss it”. It made us both uncomfortable, like we couldn’t approach anyone at school for support.

Kirsty: I agree, I feel it’s really important to create a safe, open and encouraging environment where everyone feels valued and respected for who they are. I’ve attended two secondary schools and seen how LGBT+ values can be naturally ingrained into the culture, whereas other schools could do more to create inclusion.

Alessia: Younger students, like those in years seven and eight, seem to be more open to talking about LGBT topics than we did at their age. I think a lot of that is fuelled by very recent progress in LGBT representation in the media; there’s a lot more queer characters in shows now, like Heartstopper and Never Have I Ever.

Williette: I liked XO, Kitty on Netflix. It’s about a high school student in South Korea who goes on a journey to discover herself and find true love. It features LGBT characters but they’re not just the token gay characters, which is refreshing.

Alessia: I think young people learn a lot about queer identities from social media as well, especially TikTok and Instagram. It’s a place where they can explore their own identity and also educate themselves about LGBT issues by watching influencers’ content. I learnt a lot about the trans community by watching Dylan Mulvaney’s TikToks.

Kirsty: It’s not just the Internet or British society that influence us either. Our cultural background can also impact our views. For example, some African nations are less accepting of LGBT people than we are in the UK. So, in some countries you’re freer to express your identity than others. As a Londoner, it’s easy to forget that in some parts of the world, being gay is illegal and can shockingly result in a death sentence. Religious beliefs also play a significant role in shaping attitudes towards the LGBT+ community, often determining acceptance or rejection.

Williette: Yes, that’s true. I can relate to your point. With Catholicism homosexuality isn’t always accepted, and similar beliefs exist within Islam. Of course, there are also more progressive and inclusive movements within both faiths. It varies by faith, but it’s a significant factor in how acceptance is perceived. I have Sierra Leonean heritage, and although I was born and raised in the UK, I’m aware of significant differences in LGBT equality between the two countries. It was only in 2011 that Sierra Leone formally committed to put an end to homophobia and transphobia. This is a good step forward legally, and I know from family that social acceptance of LGBT people is also improving.

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After delving into the topic, it’s evident that our upbringing profoundly influences our perception of the LGBT+ community. From our schooling to our social circles and online exposure, everything shapes our views. But if we envision a world where everyone can be themselves without fear, it’s up to us young people to lead the way.

Let’s empower each other to be allies and champions for a more just and inclusive world. Together, we can advocate for a society where everyone is valued. Let’s make it a reality!

For advice, you can call Switchboard, the national LGBTQIA+ helpline. Or check out Mosaic Trust for support and inspiration.

Kirsty is studying A-Level Geography, Sociology and Government and Politics. She has an interest in reading, current affairs, music and creative writing, which she loves to express through producing articles for Exposure.

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