Looking back, I think one of the most alienating things I struggled with when realising I was queer, was that in the mainstream media there was no one else. Yes, I was inspired by pop-stars clothing choices and related to them in their interests, but there were no gay icons for me to see as inspiring, growing up. I still feel to this day that if there was, I’d maybe have accepted my sexuality much earlier on than I did.
February is LGBT History month in the UK (not to be mistaken with LGBT Pride Month, celebrated in June.) Although we should recognise how far we’ve come, and how far is still to go, regarding sexual equality and diversity every month, this is one time in the year where we can look back on those before us who fought. Who were criminalised. Who were (and still are) murdered for their sexual orientation. Many may question its relevance in contemporary society, or why we even have a month dedicated to the history of LGBT culture and its movement in the first place. Its aim is to celebrate diversity and the work of individuals who fought for equality. The issue is, I don’t feel that the work of these individuals is really known. Unlike Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights’ movement, LGBT History and its similar strive for equality isn’t taught in schools. I doubt many teenagers will have heard of Harvey Milk, let alone come across him in a History textbook.
Growing up, I didn’t see any LGBT representation in mainstream media. I remember being fourteen and hearing that Jessie J, a popular singer at the time, was bisexual and it gave me a fuzzy feeling inside of inclusion, of not being the only one who’s attracted to women. (I later found out that Jessie no longer identifies with that label, but hey, it was nice at the time.)
The only lesbian who I knew of, and was celebrated for being a gay celebrity, was Ellen Degeneres and really, I missed out on that during its prime. Ellen, who came out publicly in 1996, is now almost triple my age and growing up I only really knew her as Dory the fish. There’s no representation for those in their twenties, who are in mainstream pop culture, and are openly not-straight. No, I’m not wanting women sporting rainbow track-suits, walking down the red-carpet (although that would be pretty great.) What I’m wanting are LGBT celebrities in the public eye, where them being queer isn’t the central, most-spoken about thing of their character. Instead, we need gay celebrities who like straight celebrities, their sexual orientation isn’t the topic of discussion in every interview. Instead, it’s something only listed on their Wikipedia page, and who instead are on the front page of magazines just like every other actor or singer. Just so young people recognising their different growing up, can look at that celebrity in admiration and know they’re not alone.
Until 1967, male ‘homosexual acts’ (yes, lesbians weren’t considered real apparently…) were a criminal offence in the United Kingdom. That meant, being gay was illegal in the eyes of the law. That was only fifty one years ago. Surely, that’s something worth remembering and celebrating. Equally, however, we do have a long way to go in terms of sexual equality and social acceptance. Aged 21, in 2018, I still experience instances of homophobia, and growing up I experienced internalised homophobia. I shouldn’t have grown up experiencing self-hatred and denial for realising I’m queer, because it really shouldn’t be an issue. But, because of heteronormativity, ‘that’s so gay’ being a slur in the class-room, and gay couples being stared at in the street, it felt like the biggest and worst thing in the world to me aged fifteen.
LGBT History month is so important and valid, even in 2018. Across the globe, homosexuality is still considered disgusting. In 2016, over fifty innocent people were murdered in a nightclub for being LGBT. Today’s youth are still growing up feeling alienated, alone and ashamed of who they are. The more we promote diversity, the more we talk about LGBT, the more LGBT representation we have in the media, the less hatred there’ll be in society.
“Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?”– Ernest J. Gaines