Out and about

Despite more acceptance of gay people in today’s society,
teenagers still face bullying from their peers, reports Anita

Jay was only 13 when his family decided to “pray the gay away”.
The church minister exorcised him under a mango tree in his
Caribbean island home.

“They were saying ‘Get down on your knees children, pray
the gay away, get it out.’ All I can remember was smelling
the mangos, the coconuts, these wonderful aromas and the breeze and
the heat. It was funny ’cos I wasn’t paying any
attention to my family who were all in a frenzy, all around praying
for me. They were laying on their hands, throwing water to get the
gay demons out of me. And that’s where I met my first guy
friend, Carmillius. It’s ironic.”

Jay now lives in north London with his mother and brother. He is
chatty, ebullient and mature way beyond his 16 years. Apart from
training in gospel singing, he is studying for his AS-levels.
“College is the easiest place to be, then home, then church.” He is
comfortably out only at college, while being a Christian has been a
furious struggle for him. “I embrace both my Christianity and being
gay. But I have to come to terms with both together. I behave
differently at church. I restrict myself and try to act

“I’m very religious, which is difficult. Religion causes
you to strive to be perfect and to see the faults in yourself.
I’ve been taught that homosexuality is a fault. I get sad,
because to me being gay is natural. I get angry with God sometimes:
‘You made me this way – isn’t this natural?’”

He was badly bullied at primary school back in the Caribbean. “I
was quite flamboyant and feminine. They used to call me
‘malmama’ – that’s offensive in patois.” They
would throw stones at him. At just 10, he tried to kill himself. At
11, he stopped talking for two years. “I built up this incredibly
huge wall. First there was the bullying, then my feeling bad about
myself, so I decided to do something about it and I shut everything
out.” He is learning to cope with his earlier trauma. Jay’s
mother now acknowledges his sexuality but still hopes he will one
day become straight.

Lauren, aged 17, has just left the college she started only
months ago: “I really didn’t like it, mostly because I
didn’t feel I could come out there.

“The environment felt homophobic. I’d only just come out
to my friends so things were still quite raw. I saw a counsellor
there but she made it worse. She was trying to tell me that I was
gay because I’d been having a relationship with my dad.”

Lauren had always been attracted to women, but “didn’t
have any label to put on it. I knew of the word lesbian, but the
images I had didn’t feel like me at the time. I thought
lesbians were old, butch, white feminists. It was nothing that I
felt related to my life”

Her family accepts her sexuality: “I’ve been quite lucky
in that respect.” It was Lauren’s girls’ school, rather
than her family, that she feels failed her because it never
addressed sexuality directly.

At 15, she had a relationship, which she describes as a “tight,
souly friendship”. “But it didn’t have any structure as a
relationship because we didn’t have anything to base it on.
It felt natural but it didn’t look normal. Nobody knew about

“There were always posters around about racist bullying but
because you never saw anything about gay issues, you were never
sure about who you could or couldn’t approach. There were two
lesbians who worked in the school but one left because she was
treated so badly by her classes.”

Angela has been coming to the Girl Diva lesbian youth group in
north London for two years, since she was 16. “My intention was to
meet people my own age. As I started coming here more I started
going out to bars and clubs more. I’ve met so many different
people socially.”

However, like many, her younger years were fraught with
difficulties. “I was bullied at school between ages 12 and 14.

wasn’t about my sexuality though, that was about my
appearance because I was a tomboy. You know, not wearing skirts,
being butch and boyish. People would basically beat me up. I used
to tell the teachers but nothing was done. Ever since I was five
years old, I liked climbing up trees and my hair was always in
short plaits. I’ve never changed.

“My parents told the teachers about the bullying but nothing was
done. I really don’t know why. I didn’t want to fight
back because I didn’t want to get kicked out of school. There
were two boys who were six foot tall and about four years above me,
so I couldn’t fight back even if I wanted to.”

She didn’t know about youth groups for lesbians then. “I
didn’t have any friends because I was being bullied so

“I was at sixth form college when I first started coming to the
youth group. I’d just come out to all my friends there. It
was quite a shock how open-minded my college was – everyone had
their suspicions and people were supportive. And it was a big
burden lifted.”

What matters the most to them? For Lauren, those in authority
should take greater notice: “People would find it so much easier to
come out if there was more gay information in schools. Politicians
and social workers – they always talk about gay issues like they
aren’t a part of their life. Everything that happens in the
same community is going to affect them in some way or another.” For
Angela unwavering self-belief is vital: “What I was never told was
to just be myself, because in the end you’ll just find who
you are.”

Jay says: “I want people to remember that the littlest things
that they say or do can really mean a lot to other people.” He
wants to pay tribute to his first love, Carmillius. “Carmillius
wasn’t out to anyone. We got in an argument about
homosexuality. I hadn’t told him that I was leaving the
Antilles islands.” Carmillius was later found dead, something for
which Jay blames himself. “If we hadn’t argued, would he
still be alive? It’s not just a matter of being gay or white
or black, anything you say can affect people’s lives. He was
a very sentimental kind of guy. Maybe he couldn’t exist in
this world the way it was.”

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