Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Being gay is not a disease'

Anna Carey

There's nothing new about gay teenagers. As long as there have been gay adults, there have been gay teens -- very few people suddenly become aware of their sexuality on their 20th birthday. But until very recently, most lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people were unable to be open about their sexuality until they were much older.

Happily, things are changing. Although coming out is still not easy, and homophobic bullying is depressingly common, many teenagers are refusing to spend their adolescence in the closet.

And in a groundbreaking new documentary called Growing Up Gay, which begins on Monday on RTE1, young LGBT people from all over the country reveal what it's like to be a gay teenager in today's Ireland.

The documentary's director, Aoife Kelleher, was inspired by the work being done by BeLonG To, an Irish organisation that supports young LGBT people. Kelleher found plenty of willing participants in Dublin, but discovered that kids in other areas were often afraid to take part. "Young LGBT people in smaller towns are more alienated and isolated, which meant they were less likely to come forward and talk about their experiences in a documentary that would be broadcast on RTE1," she says.

LGBT teenagers are still much more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers, and homophobic bullying is widespread, which is why BeLonG To have just launched Stand Up, a campaign that promotes positive awareness of LGBT issues and urges both straight and gay kids to speak out against homophobic bullying.

But if you're thinking this is a marginal issue, you'd be wrong. "It's important that people recognise there are young LGBT people in every classroom in the country and probably in every family," says Michael Barron, BeLonG To's director. "Being young and gay should be a mainstream concern. At BeLonG To our main concern is young LGBT people, but their school, their parents and their friends all need to be involved. When you add those groups up it ends up including, well, everybody."

In Growing Up Gay, not only teens but also their families tell their stories, showing nervous parents that having a gay child doesn't have to be a big deal.

On Monday, in sitting rooms all over the country, teenagers who have never breathed a word about their true feelings, who are convinced that if they did it would be the end of the world, will see kids just like them on their TV screen.

And perhaps for the first time, they'll realise that they too can live happily ever after.

Irish Independent

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