Gay marriage was legalised in Belgium 14 and a half years ago, making it accepted in our school too, but does that mean that everyone who is LGBTQ+, especially teenagers and adolescents, feels completely comfortable with their sexuality in our school and with their peers? We interviewed two boys, one who’s bisexual and the other who’s gay, and asked them to give their honest opinions on how they feel in the school community.
Who are you?
A: I’m a teenager, I’m a student and I’m a bisexual boy.
B: I’m a teenager, I’m a homosexual.
Are you openly bisexual/homosexual?
A: My friends know I’m bisexual but my family doesn’t.
B: Yes, I am, with both my friends and family. My parents have always kind of known but I told my Dad when I was 13, he was fine with it.
How come you haven’t told your parents yet?
A: I decided not to tell them, not because I’m afraid they won’t accept it, but because I’d prefer to avoid the whole awkward conversation. They probably already know that I’m not straight, but nothing has been discussed between us. My brother (who is straight) doesn’t know about it either, we’re very competitive about everything, and so far my sexuality has never played a role in that. However, I’m afraid that if I tell him, it will affect our relationship. That’s also a reason why I don’t want to come out, I’m worried things might change between me and my family in some way.
How do you think people in this school, as a community, have treated you?
A: For me personally, I’ve never been bullied or harassed because of my sexuality yet. I think I’ve been treated quite well, there are always certain remarks or the jokes, but nothing very serious.
B: Generally, people in this school (concerning my sexuality) have treated me pretty well, especially the girls as some of the boys feel awkward around me because they think I’m attracted to them, because apparently, they’re all beautiful and amazing. I’ve never been bullied about being gay or anything. This, I suppose, is also because I’m confident in my sexuality and my family have always supported me, which also helps. If someone were to say something or insult me, it wouldn’t really hurt.
Do people ever assume things of you because you’re gay?
A: Yes, I’ve been a victim of many stereotypes of a gay person. People automatically assume that I don’t do any sports, that I like fashion and that my only friends are girls. This is only partly true for me personally, no one is a stereotype, we’re all human and individuals. I don’t think anyone would want to be classified as something they’re not.
B: Yes, they do, they assume that I love shopping, watching chick flicks and other things… Basically, they think that I act like a stereotypical woman. Personally, it has mostly been girls that have assumed these things about me. I think that the fact that I’m very confident with who I am, makes people respect me more. When people talk about me, I’m always the ‘gay’ one, I’m a lot more than just being ‘gay’, people assume that that’s all there is to me, it’s just an aspect of my personality. Being gay doesn’t define me.
How do you fit into this whole ‘macho’ heterosexual culture that’s very present among teenage boys?
A: Well that’s the thing, I don’t fit. None of the boys, especially in these teenage years, want to stick out or be seen as anything different. Even one of my closest friends, just because he talks to me, people just assume that we’re going out. A lot of people think this, when it’s not true. It’s this whole idea that if you don’t act in a certain way, you’re automatically homosexual, but no, that’s not what LGBTQ+ is about… Everyone seems to be afraid of being labelled as gay.
B: I’ve always had more female friends than male friends, I guess I don’t really fit into that whole ‘macho’ sporty groups. However, I don’t really think I act in such a stereotypically gay fashion, and for some boys this makes it easier for them to be around me. I’ve only lately become friends with the boys in my class, as before I felt that I just made them feel awkward and uncomfortable. Some boys have said homophobic remarks to me, not because they themselves are homophobic but because they wish to impress their friends and feel more masculine in doing so. I just find this pathetic and immature.
How can the acceptance in this school be improved?
A: I think the general atmosphere towards the LGBTQ+ community is pretty positive, albeit I still continue to hear a lot of slurs… People understand that saying ‘n*gger’ is wrong, because it is wrong and it shouldn’t be said, however, they don’t seem to understand that saying ‘f*g’ is just as bad…
B: If someone has issues they should be able to go to the teachers for advice, however sometimes these situations are difficult to handle, — even for teachers. It could be nice to create an LGBTQ+ club and straight alliance, and I guess it could help improve how people perceive it. More than actual homophobia in this school, I think people are just uncomfortable and don’t know how to react to anything that is different.
Thanks guys, that was very interesting…
Well, after this conversation we cannot but think that I agree with many of their conclusions, in particular that anything that is different or out of the ordinary will provoke discomfort among people. Schools are generally a positive environment in which young teenagers can thrive and grow, but unfortunately, they can also become a place of hatred and exclusion. In these complicated years of our lives, everyone is learning about themselves and about others, our self-esteem is probably at its lowest, and feeling that we belong somewhere is fundamental for our wellbeing.
In order to increase the tolerance at this school we believe people should empathise more with each other, and see each other as full persons, complex by definition. Simplistic prejudices should be avoided, and rushed judgements about a person. The European Schools celebrate differences between our many students, and this shouldn’t be any different.
(Names have been changed for the privacy of the people involved.)
Amelie S. and Rosemary C., S5ENa / EEB1 Uccle
Cover picture by Yannis Papanastasopoulos
Photo by Levvi Saunders