For LGBTQ+ History Month, Louise shares some key moments that have shaped the course of this country and her message for those who may be struggling with their mental health at this time.
Throughout history the LGBTQ+ community has witnessed many changes, both in attitudes and in the laws that discriminated against the community for a long period of time. Sadly, the rate of suicide remains high among LGBTQ+ youth, with this group being almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth (The Trevor Project).
At Shout 85258, around 35% of people who have texted the service identify as LGBTQ+ and 85% of these people are under the age of 25. Since the service began, some of the main issues that LGBTQ+ texters have mentioned in conversation with Shout Volunteers are suicide (37% of conversations), depression (33%), anxiety (32%), relationships (23%), self-harm (20%) and loneliness (17%).
58% of LGBTQ+ texters told our volunteers something that they have never shared with anyone else.
It’s important to remember the history of our community to fully understand the mental health struggles we may face and it's important to also remember that whatever you are facing you don't have to face it alone.
Be proud of who you are, and remember what has happened in the past to get us to this point
Below are some of the events that have happened throughout history that have impacted the LGBTQ+ community and the role they have played in shaping my own life and my mental wellbeing.
1967 – the Sexual Offences Act legalises sex between two men over the age of 21 and ‘in private’. Before 1967, sex between consenting males of any age was against the law and was punishable by life in prison. Though a huge step forward, it didn’t go far enough. The age of consent was set at 21 for sex between men, compared with 16 for sex between men and women. This was only 54 years ago, which is still very recent. I find it hard to imagine what it was like for LGBTQ+ people between the ages of 16 and 21 at that time. It must have been devastating knowing that the law was against them being who they were, and that they could spend life in prison for simply loving someone of the same sex. This act was only introduced in England and Wales. It didn’t become law in Scotland until 1980 and in Northern Ireland until 1982. The people living there still lived in fear.
1972 – the first ever Pride march was held in London, attracting around 2,000 participants. This was a positive step forward for the community! It must have felt so uplifting for people to finally be able to celebrate who they were, and not have to hide it. A sense of inclusion was beginning to happen for those in the LGBTQ+ community in England, having faced discrimination for so long. But things took another step back in the late 1980s.
1988 – The government introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. Section 28 stated that councils should not "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, meaning teachers couldn’t speak about same-sex relationships with their students. This included students coming out to their teachers or tackling homophobic bullying. This must have felt like a devastating blow for the community, when incredible milestones had taken place beforehand to end the discrimination faced by those who identified as LGBQT+. If this was me, it would have led me to think that my feelings weren't valid or normal and I would have questioned my place in society.
1992 – the World Health Organisation declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness. I am truly shocked that this only happened 29 years ago! Though a positive milestone, up until this point same-sex attraction was deemed as a mental illness. Let’s take a step back and think about this. Up until 29 years ago you were deemed mentally ill for being who you are, for loving someone. I was too young at the time to know about this, but I know that if I had been of an age where I understood being who I was a mental illness, I wouldn’t know how to process it.
2014 - Same sex marriage became legal in England and Wales. The law also changed in Scotland in December 2014, and in Northern Ireland inJanuary 2020. Now this is something I do remember, and the joy I felt was amazing. Finally, the LGBTQ+ community were allowed to get married, and have their love for each other be celebrated. The sense of inclusion was incredible, and as the saying goes, “love is love!”
There is so much more support out there for the LGBTQ+ community now, particularly with charities embracing the idea that this community has its unique set of barriers and difficulties when it comes to mental health. There will always be people who discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, and there are some places around the world that still have a very long way to go. If I could say anything to those who are reading this, it’s to be proud of who you are, and remember what has happened in the past to get us to this point. Keep that rainbow flag flying for yourself and those to come!
If you need support, you can always text SHOUT to 85258 to be connected to a volunteer.