Expert opinion: Being young and gay is hard enough without homophobic books on sale

As LGBT activists in Spain call for a boycott of its largest department store for selling anti-gay books, Dr Liz Morrish, linguist from the School of Arts and Humanities, discusses the effect homophobic messages can have on young people.

When the Guardian reported last week that a Spanish department store chain, El Corte Inglés, has been continuing to sell books with an apparent anti-gay agenda, I could understand why LGBT activists in Spain were calling for a boycott.

My students often tell me that being gay these days is really no big deal. It just doesn't matter that much. I disagree with them. Here is why.

Stonewall, the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual charity and campaigning group, state in their 2012 Schools Report that more than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying, and that two in five (41 per cent) have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying.

More than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying.

Dr Liz Morrish

Author Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller started a video project It Gets Better in response to a large number of teen suicides thought to stem from homophobic bullying. There are now more than 50,000 video testimonies designed to bring hope to young lesbians and gay men who may be facing isolation and harassment.

A performance artist, Peterson Toscano, spent 15 years in what he describes as the 'Homo No Mo' Halfway House' where he submitted to reparative therapy, ex-gay support groups and even three exorcisms . Eventually, having accepted himself as a gay man, he now performs, lectures and organises to raise awareness about lesbian and gay issues.

There are enough homophobic messages enveloping young people as they take their first steps outside of the family.

Dr Liz Morrish

Every time I attend a gay conference or a Gay Pride march I look around me and sense that every individual has a story to tell of overcoming prejudice, discrimination or self-hate. Not many people will sit down with a child and tell them, "who knows who you'll have a relationship with –men or women – all the same to your dad and me!" No – what we grow up with is a set of expectations based on what society has ratified as normal, whether that is a gender role or a sexual identity. And for those of us with an acute sense of non-normativity and marginalisation, that is a guilty secret we may carry with us for years before finally finding the courage and self-belief to come out of the closet.

As for the decision by El Corte Inglés to sell these books, there are enough homophobic messages enveloping young people as they take their first steps outside of the family, and we really do not need the false affirmation of pseudoscience telling us we are sick and in need of being cured. School really is a hard enough place to try and fit in without a copy of I Want to Stop Being Gay being slipped into your satchel.

Happily, research that I have done, with Helen Sauntson of York St John University, indicates that for university students, life really does get better. If secondary school students face name calling and lack of information or support, then they blossom in the tolerant atmosphere of university.

Here at Nottingham Trent University, we have a thriving NTU Pride group for students who are lesbian or gay, or who are just questioning their identity. Students will find support from within our excellent Student Support Services, and the intellectual resources they need in the many gender and sexuality courses across the University. They will find role models, both gay and straight, but most of all, lots of new friends just like themselves.

Dr Liz Morrish
Principal lecturer
School of Arts and Humanities

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Expert opinion: Being young and gay is hard enough without homophobic books on sale

Published on 24 June 2014
  • Category: Press; School of Arts and Humanities

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