For young people who think they might be gay, are gay, or who are perceived to be gay, it can be difficult to be in school. There are very few mechanisms in place in schools to support young people who experience homophobic bullying, and those with gay people in their family are also exposed to abuse. There is also a marked lack of positive role models to help shape a young person’s experience and understanding of their sexuality.
Young people are exploring their sexuality at a young age. Although there is no universal age, young people are increasingly sexually active (even if they do not have full sexual intercourse), and therefore it is logical to assume that gay people are realising their sexuality at younger ages, sometimes as young as 12. A lack of safe sex information at school, can lead to unsafe practices amongst the gay community. Some gay people say that they always knew they were gay. This can lead to difficulties for families who want to support children who may be gay or think they are gay.
Although the issue of supporting a child who is gay is becoming a more mainstream topic on adult television, parents can be distressed by the thought that their child is gay. This is caused by the fact that being gay is still seen to be negative. A popular portrayal of gay life is one of promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, and unhappiness. Furthermore, most resources for young people who think they might be gay reiterate the thinking that being gay is usually a phase that will pass or might pass. For some young gay people, such reassurance can prove more confusing than the initial feelings. This has implications for the health service.
Low self-esteem amongst gay people can lead to (sometimes long term) mental health problems. Parents may also feel that they can’t discuss their concerns with a health care professional, in case they will be judged.
There are local LGB youth organisations, which can help create a positive identity for young people, but finding out about these, and having resources and freedom to attend meetings, depends entirely on the individual, their family or their school. Some young people in rural areas (for example) struggle to access gay listings or attend meetings without arousing suspicions from their family. This leads to a further sense of isolation and exclusion.
Some young people find themselves excluded from home if they are lesbian or gay. This, coupled with an unsupportive school environment, can lead to complete social exclusion. The young person may find themselves in care, or even homeless. Health care practitioners can play a crucial role in supporting and informing young people, and this positive relationship can change the way in which young people relate to the health sector in the future.