Young people 'coming out earlier'

11/09/09

Jasmine
Jasmine came out when she was only 12 years old

Forty years ago it was a crime to be gay in Britain. Since then things have changed considerably.

We've seen gay couples kiss in soaps and witnessed civil partnerships.

Politicians, musicians, even bishops have all spoken out about their sexuality. But is society really that cool with gay people?

The BBC Two show Revealed has been talking to teenagers about their experiences of coming out and what it's really like to be gay in the UK.

Jasmine knew she was gay from a very young age.

She said: "From the age of six to nine, when I was actually quite sure I was gay, I guess there was a lot of confusion, and having to hide it all at the same time was difficult. It's not something encouraging you to be gay, you just know."

Jasmine came out to her friends and family when she was 12.

'Homophobia in schools'

Leading gay organisations say there's anecdotal evidence to suggest that the age at which people coming out is getting younger, but it's not clear why.

Despite the fact homosexuality has been legal in the UK for years, one survey published last year claimed a quarter of the population thought being gay should still be a crime.

At the same time Britain's biggest gay charity, Stonewall, says homophobia in schools is a massive problem.

Sometimes people don't always talk to me the way they might talk to other people
Jasmine

The gay rights group says nine in 10 secondary school teachers have witnessed pupils suffering homophobic abuse.

Jasmine says being out at school isn't easy.

"Sometimes people don't always talk to me the way they might talk to other people.

"When I first came out there was a lot of 'Anyone who would talk to me must be gay'. Anyone talking to me that wasn’t homophobic, that must make them gay too.

"It's hard, you feel quite excluded. In a way I was hoping that when I came out, other people would automatically come out, but that wasn't the case.

Find out more in Revealed... Are you born gay?

"I was hoping other people would have the courage."

She says while she has lost friends by coming out, most people have stuck by her, and that her parents were completely accepting of her sexuality.

Every year, the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard takes around 30,000 calls from people across the UK who have questions about their sexuality and sexual health.

Gareth, Tom and Alice
Gareth and Tom have had stones and bottles thrown at them

Rob Kidd is from the organisation. He said: "There's no rush to the coming out process. If you feel ready to tell people that's great, but once you've told people you can't go back into the closet."

He says the initial bad reaction people sometimes get from friends and family does often change.

"You've sometimes had years to think about how you're feeling. You know who you’re attracted to and you've got that all sorted in your own mind, but when you tell parents, family and friends, they have to make an immediate judgement and decision.

"Once the news has had time to sink in then they're better able to say 'Okay, that’s fine'.

"Some people will just get a negative reaction and that's really sad, that even now, that still happens."

Television no longer shys away from gay storylines and lots of soaps now show that gay people are part of life.

However, it seems often the acceptance that gay characters receive isn't always a true reflection of what happens in real life.

Gareth and Tom, a couple from Basingstoke, say even simple things like holding hands in public can be difficult.

"We’ve had stones thrown, bottles thrown. It's not too bad, but every now and then you get people who don't like it."

Their friend Alice came out when she was 14. She says she's also suffered homophobic abuse from strangers

"I had a brick thrown at my window. I looked out and there was a whole group of people shouting stuff."

During the making of 'Revealed…Coming out', everyone we spoke to told us they'd experienced some form of homophobic abuse.

But they also said they were glad they'd made the decision to be open and honest about their sexuality.

'Revealed…Coming out' is on BBC Two, Saturday 12 September, 1.40pm