I grew up in Slovakia. It’s a place where LGBT+ rights are still something we are fighting for. We are still fighting for legalisation of gay marriage and recognition of transgender people. It’s a place where being gay is not something that is considered normal or natural by most people.
When I was growing up, I would hear my friends in school say "that’s so gay" to describe something they don’t like, and the word 'lesbian' was used often as an insult. For all these reasons, I thought being gay is something wrong. It was something no one should be proud of, and I never wanted to associate those words with me. I grew up around people who wouldn’t accept me, so how could I accept myself?
When I was around 10 or 11, I realized that I might be gay. And I panicked. I promised myself I wasn't gay, and that this was just a thought that I will never think about again. I was so ashamed that I felt guilty even thinking about the idea of being gay.
The years went by and I tried to date boys. I tried to present myself in a more feminine way just to prove to myself that I am straight. If no one knew about my thoughts I could successfully hide it forever. But it got harder with time, and I felt like I want to talk about my feelings with someone.
And then I met my friend Maria, when I was 18. She was always extremely supportive, kind and empathetic person. I finally got the courage to tell her my secret. One night, we were walking through town together and I knew that this was my moment. My hands were shaking and my palms were sweating. I told her, "I think I'm gay."
What she said back changed my perspective on my identity. She said, "Katarína, it's okay that you're gay." That was the first time I'd heard those words.
She told me there is no need to be ashamed of that and that she was so proud of me for coming out to her. It was such a relieving moment in my life that I will never forget. She gave me the courage and confidence to get through my struggle to accept myself, and to eventually come out to other friends and to my family. She gave me the confidence that helped me to live authentically and be proud of who I am.
Looking back, I can safely say that my friends were and still are the biggest support I could ever wish for. They were never judgmental they didn’t treat my sexuality as something to gossip about. They always saw me for the person I am before and after coming out. Nothing in our friendship changed. And that’s the point I'm trying to get through: you can be the supportive non-judgmental friend to your LGBT+ peers; you can be the Maria in someone's story. Trust me, they will never forget you and they will be forever grateful.
And for people who know or are yet to discover that they are LGBT+: I want to say that you matter, and your identity is valid. There is community for everyone regardless of your background, and regardless of your race or religion. LGBT+ people are born within all races and all religions. LGBT+ people thrive in all disciplines. There is place for you and if you struggle right now, things do get better.
I wasn’t the only one that struggled. In fact, 9 in 10 LGBT+ young people have heard anti-LGBT+ remarks at school; 6 in 10 experience anti-LGBT+ bullying there. This can lead to serious consequences: 2 in 5 kids have missed school because of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.
What can any student do to make this better ?
There is not one way of being LGBT+. There is a place for everyone and it won't hold you back from having a great life.
Katarína Chrappová is an LGBT+ ambassador for Just Like Us in Bristol. This is the speech she gave at Bristol Cathedral Choir School in March 2020.