Don’t hijack child welfare to attack gay marriage

I got home from work today to discover that this afternoon’s House of Commons debate had turned into a procession of backbench Tory MPs delivering a series of variations on “I’m not a homophobe but…” If David Cameron’s endorsement of gay marriage was intended to show a forward-thinking, tolerant conservatism, it seems a large section of his party failed to get the memo.

Much of the opposition to gay marriage has taken the form of concern trolling about what it’ll mean for our children. Yesterday David Davies MP said, “I hate to say this, in a way, because I expect it’s going to cause controversy – but I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay, knowing most parents want grandchildren if nothing else.”

A few days ago another Tory MP, Bob Blackman, went further than just opposing gay marriage. He called the reintroduction of the notorious Section 28, which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools. He said, “I was one of those that strongly believed that Section 28 was the right rules to have in school so that we should not promote in any way shape or form promote same-sex relationships, I still abide by that and feel thats the right way forward, and if teachers are forced to say same-sex relationships are equivalent to heterosexual relationships I’d be very opposed to that.” As a quick history lesson, not a single prosecution was ever brought under Section 28, but it created a huge obstacle for teachers who wanted to prevent homophobic bullying.

A couple of weeks ago the Daily Telegraph suggested that teachers could be sacked for not promoting gay marriage in schools, and fulminated against such a grievous hypothetical outrage.

Since I work in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), I think I’ll give my own thoughts on what gay marriage could mean for our children.

I won’t mention any individual cases, but I’ve been involved with several young people where events have followed a certain template. A teenager suddenly stops attending school, and stops seeing their friends. Often there were previously no issues with their school attendance. We’re asked to see them. They’re low in mood, but not necessarily at the level of a clinical depression. They can’t tell us why they won’t go to school, or why they’re locking themselves in their bedrooms, but whatever it is seems to be distressing them.

At some stage down the line, it turns out to be either a sexuality or a gender identity issue. Often this gets revealed accidentally. Perhaps they blurt something out in a moment of stress, or their parents discover same-sex images on their computer. They usually don’t simply come into the therapy room and tell us, because they’re terrified of how people will react.

What happens next is crucial. If the response of family and friends is a positive one – to tell them it’s okay, to accept this aspect of them, to let them know that this isn’t a problem – then the child has a good chance of getting their life back on track. They now have the opportunity to move forward, to be who they are, and to prosper.

If the disclosure is met with hostility and rejection, then the damage can be enormous. Instead of prospering, the kid can fall into depression, substance misuse, self-harm, school avoidance or any combination thereof.

Homophobic and transphobic bullying is still an issue in schools, but when I think of when I was at school in the late 80s and early 90s, the progress is enormous. I’ve worked with LGBT teenagers who describe being accepted by their classmates in a way that would have been inconceivable when I was a kid. Some of our local schools have LGBT student groups, and ask older pupils to act as mentors to young people who are coming out. There’s a support group for LGBT teenagers that we can signpost kids to. More and more young people are being presented with a very healthy idea – that being gay, bisexual or transgender is normal.  In that sense, many of our kids understand the future a lot better than the grey-haired fulminators on the Tory backbenches.

But there’s still a way to go. Gay marriage may not be the most important waypoint on the road to demonstrating that LGBT people are equal and normal in every way, but it is one of those waypoints. So, if you’re opposed to gay marriage, don’t do it because our kids supposedly need “protecting” from homosexuality. They don’t need protection; they need normalisation.

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9 thoughts on “Don’t hijack child welfare to attack gay marriage

  1. Ah, you’ve triggered me, into spouting possiblty ill-informed and tendentious mindspew: When diagnosing Gayism in school-refusal-teenager: try not to. It’s not really any of your business.

    I think they maybe some very good and very safe websites, and some RL organisations that are quite good at umm… normalising and supporting school-refusal-teenagers.

    Perhaps there needs to be leaflets, and posters in schools? I’m sure the Daily Mail would be please to publicize the issue.

  2. The piece presents a very ‘clinical’ picture of events from the writer’s own generalisation about progression of ‘events’ on being gay as a teenager. It is theoretical and certainly does not equate with the actual lives of many gay people I have come across over decades, as friends.

    Not supporting gay marriage does not equate with homophobia anymore than, nowadays, having children outside of wedlock in civil partnerships equates with illegitimacy. Fewer people get married anyway and more get divorced.

    I cannot see the necessity of seeking a marriage ceremony just because another group have it, (because it at some point became a social requisite for this group who happen to be able to produce children as evolution gave them this ability).

    People cannot help being what they are- but neither do they need to emulate others- they just need acceptance for what / who they are without needing to act like others- in a developed society surely this should be possible?

    • It is theoretical and certainly does not equate with the actual lives of many gay people I have come across over decades, as friends.

      It is certainly not theoretical. I’ve generalised somewhat for the sake of confidentiality, but it refers to a number of real-world cases I’ve been involved in.

      Does it describe the experiences of all gay people? Of course not. It refers to a certain set of experiences with regard to young people who come into contact with mental health services as a result of difficulties in coming out.

  3. I an intrigued by your post. I’m a social worker in the US and there are individuals who are willing to remove children from homes with same sex parents, than those who have parents of the opposite sex, and also suffer from meth addiction. I support gay marriage, straight marriages are failing everywhere, but its the gays fault? these people should get a clue.

    • Until a few weeks ago I would have said that we in the UK don’t have the sort of “culture wars” that you guys have Stateside. Unfortunately it now looks like we’ve got our own version kicking off as we speak. Sigh.

  4. And this morning, entering stage right, are our friends in UKIP, who are leaping onto the gay marriage bandwagon in order to court the “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” vote.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/11/ukip-david-cameron-gay-marriage

    UKIP describe themselves as a “libertarian, non-racist party”. Quite apart from having to include a “not a racist but…” in their description, this headline suggests they’re made up of the sort of politicos who call themselves libertarian because it doesn’t impress girls if you tell them you’re a conservative.

  5. Hi – I think you make excellent points – and I am truly not against same sex relationships or using the word marriage to describe what is currently legally called a Civil Partnership in the UK. However, i your last paragraph you fall into the same trap as so many others by confusing the word “equal” with the concept of “equality”. Equality is what we rightly aim for in society; that everyone has equal rights and opportunity but it just nonsense to say that “LGBT people are equal in every way” they are different from hetrosexual people (in terms of their sexuality), in the same way that I am different from my brother because I am blond and he is dark. What we need is to “Vive La Difference” and accept these things. It’s even wrong in my view to say that everyone should be treated equally – certainly not all the time and in every way – wow what a boring world that would make! We should treat people according to their needs and desires – get to know them and work out what makes them tick and what makes them sad and act accordingly.

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