This article was first published in Attitude issue 272, July 2016.
His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge made headlines last year as he became the first member of the British Royal Family to appear on the cover of an LGBT magazine.
Attitude’s groundbreaking issue, from July 2016, recounts the Prince’s momentous meeting with a group of nine LGBT+ people at Kensington Palace to listen to their experiences of bullying and homophobia, and the consequences these had on their mental health.
Shortly after, Prince William released a video message to mark National #StandUpToBullying Week, reminding people that bullying is an issue that can affect “any one of us, regardless of age, background, gender, sexuality, race, disability or religion.”
He also discussed mental health in a video call with a very unlikely pop star as the Prince’s show of LGBT support made news headlines all over the world.
Now, over a year on, you can relive the historical moment for Mental Health Day, yesterday (October 10). Meet the nine people who made history with Prince William below:
Although there were many wonderful things about school, it was also a slow and intense inculcation in self-hatred and self-disgust, with all the obvious consequences to mental health that that entails. Section 28 was in force, which meant that any teacher with a non-reproving attitude to homosexuality could be ruined.
Had any teacher felt the inclination to help me, he or she would have been thwarted. But it would have helped enormously had I had the impression that my teachers and school friends didn’t cleave to the idea that homosexuality was wrong. Now I stay focused and optimistic with mindfulness – avoiding mood-altering substances – and physiotherapy.
I also feel fortunate that when I came out my parents made it clear that their love was unconditional. I remind myself that that along makes me very lucky.
Managing my mental health isn’t easy and I definitely don’t have it all figured out. I’m constantly learning. I have accepted that this is and always will be a part of my life. I try to be kinder to myself. That voice that’s always telling me why I’m not good enough is often lost for words when I’m busy focusing on the things that make me a pretty good guy. I turn to friends instead of food – it turns out they’re actually better at listening than an empty family-size bag of Sensations.
I make jokes about my experience. For me, the darkest of moments are a little easier if I can find the humour in them. I work with young people around mental health and bullying. It gives my experience a purpose. I find comfort in the hope that what I went through may allow me to prevent or at least support people in a similar position.
I don’t allow my mental health problems to own me. I live with depression, anxiety and Binge Eating Disorder. I’m a suicide survivor, but I’m also much more than that.
Schools aren’t doing enough to tackle LGBT bullying. I think that it’s something schools don’t want to talk about and they keep it quiet, on the hush, while gay children get bullied.
From personal experience, I think the teachers feel weaker than the children and get tired of having to go over it again and again. In the community where I was living at the time, not many people were coming out in high school. Perhaps today things might be a bit easier: but I still hear stories about gay teenagers feeling insecure to be themselves and not having anywhere to go and there aren’t enough laws that forbid gay bullying in school or in public.
I thank God for my strength. Even though I started to stand up for myself, it didn’t make it any easier because the schools would still give me an equal punishment for standing up for myself. There are many things gay teenagers do to themselves, caused by homophobic bullying, such as self-harm or suicide, so it’s something to be taken serious. And in all honesty, I don’t think it’s taken that seriously.
I believe that, like all too many gay, bisexual and transgender people, I am deeply scarred by growing up in a hostile society. The violence, shame, scorn and social exclusion heaped on children who are “different” can have lingering effects – in my case, anxiety, mood swings and trouble forming and maintaining healthy relationships of all varieties.
I experienced a lot of violence as a child, both at school and at home, so there are many incidents that stick in my mind.I am very lucky to have reached a much happier place in my life, and count myself extremely privileged for someone in my position. Growing up, it didn’t feel like life had much to offer a transgender kid like me, born on a rough council estate.
Today I constantly have to remind myself how far I have come. I am also extremely optimistic about the future and see signs of change all around me. Society is evolving and there are so many great people working to help smooth the path for the next generation. Like many trans people, I was messed about by the NHS for years, when I needed support most. We have to change that and also protect the NHS and ensure that quality care is available for everyone, regardless of how rich or poor they happen to be.
This includes proper support for mental health services – it’s a scandal that PACE, the mental health charity for LGBT people, has shut down due to government cuts when our community is so disproportionately affected by mental health issues. The sooner we can help people, the sooner they can start leading full, happy and productive lives again. There is huge hope. It is getting better.
I think for me the problem at the heart of it was with the teachers. There are so many responsibilities for teachers now; they are over-worked and underpaid and some of them simply don’t have the time to be aware of things such as gender and sexuality. However, I do think there are teachers who either don’t care or are actively part of the problem, and for me if there was some system in place to stop these people from allowing bullying to continue then I think that would be a good place to start.
What would have helped me? I guess visible LGBT role models or people who were outspoken about supporting LGBT people and qualified people who offered mental health support. There was no support for my mental health problems at school or through my doctor, and I wasn’t aware of any other way to get support. If I had received help earlier, I wouldn’t have had such a traumatic time trying to recover from my mental health problems.
When I was attacked by my own community for being gay, I felt defenceless. Because I’m gay, they don’t classify me as an African. In their biased minds, Africans can’t be gay and so many people had so much to say: belittling me, telling me I was “a waste of sperm”, comparing being gay to being a rapist or a terrorist, calling me a “bastard” and so much more. Even at the age of 26, it still hurts. I am human and I am strong, but there’s only so much abuse you can take. There’s a limit to how much of other people’s ignorance you can tolerate.
Being gay is just one aspect of me, and it isn’t anyone’s business. Love is love. People discriminate and always use God as an excuse for anything that they don’t see as normal, but we live in a world where everyone is individual. So I feel powerless and not so optimistic about change until I get that message across to people. That’s ultimately what keeps me strong because I feel as if I have to be there for the people who are truly defenceless.
We work with hundreds of LGBT+ young people every year at Space Youth Project and nearly every one of them has some form of mental health issue, ranging from low self-esteem to feeling suicidal. Thankfully, we exist so there is somewhere positive, safe and supportive for them to go to get the help they desperately need. I will continue with — and expand on — what I do, which is to talk openly, honestly and loudly about the problems still faced by our community, to ensure that everyone knows that prejudice still exists in a big way. Just because there are protective laws doesn’t mean that they are always adhered to.
All schools need to have working diversity and equality policies — not ones that just sit on shelves and get the tick in the box to say they have one. Every school has LGBT+ young people within it, even primary schools. Discussion involving positive role models in each school would be an inspiration to pupils struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. As for the government, it really does need to make the inclusion of LGBT+ equality a statutory duty, not just a piece of guidance. It needs to realise that there is still a lot of damaging homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia occurring in schools and communities that is ignored or not reported.
I would urge any parent of a child who is experiencing homophobic bullying to listen and really hear what their child is saying. Don’t dismiss it as banter or by saying, “everyone is teased at school.” Homophobic bullying can have a negative impact on a child’s life, even after they have left school. Left untreated, it can cause mental health issues. Speak to the school, find an organisation, such as The Space Youth Project, that offers support and advice for LGBT young people in your area. Above all, show and keep loving your child.
So, how can we eradicate homophobic bullying? All trainee teachers should have in-depth training relating to homophobic bullying and every school should have a designated person to oversee their behaviour policy, striving for zero tolerance towards any bullying. Organisations such as The Space Youth Project need to be allowed to work with schools, holding workshops for all staff, governors and pupils to allay any fears or misconceptions associated with the LGBT community. And age appropriate information about same-sex relationships should be compulsory in all schools, thus treating everyone equally and with respect.
Yousuf Hussain – (Not pictured) A young Muslim man who developed a pattern of self-harming and an eating disorder as a result of homophobic bullying at school.
A message from HRH Prince William:
“Bullying is not a rite of passage. Bullying is abuse that can create long-term suffering and can end lives, and it has no place in any society. No one should be bullied for their sexuality or any other reason and no one should have to put up with the kind of hate that these young people have endured in their lives. The young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals I met through Attitude are truly brave to speak out and to give hope to people who are going through terrible bullying right now.
“Their sense of strength and optimism should give us all encouragement to stand up to bullying wherever we see it. What I would say to any young person reading this who’s being bullied for their sexuality: don’t put up with it — speak to a trusted adult, a friend, a teacher, Childline, Diana Award or some other service and get the help you need. You should be proud of the person you are and you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Attitude’s historic July 2016 issue is still available to download now.