For Anti-Bullying Week, I want to talk a little bit about my experiences at school and why we should choose respect.
I grew up in a small, conservative town in the middle of the Shropshire countryside – don’t worry if you don’t know where this is, I won't take it to heart! It seemed like most residents weren't accepting of anything or anyone that wasn’t traditional. It meant that, if you were LGBT+, you were most definitely the black sheep.
I can happily say that I never experienced any extreme forms of bullying towards anyone LGBT+, but no one really spoke about LGBT+ things openly. When they did – well, you can guess how lovely that was! Some used the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ as an insult with disgust; others replaced the words ‘stupid’ with them when they shouted down the halls.
While I was in school, one of my friends advocated for the charity Stonewall. They put posters up and held an assembly talking to 150+ kids about LGBT+, something that was so brave and challenging to do in my little country town where people were so sheltered.
This could have been the perfect opportunity for other students to choose respect, support the LGBT+ community and gain some understanding. Instead, other students tore the posters down and disrupted the assembly.
But then, some wonderful things followed.
Although only a few students picked these posters up and put them back up, many other students decided not to follow this narrow-minded and prejudiced attitude. These young people didn’t make huge public displays of being allies for LGBT+ people like my friend did, but made a small change to their attitudes: they chose to be respectful.
I want people to know that these small and silent gestures - like taking the time to read a poster - don’t go unnoticed.
Even tiny, respectful actions can create a stir and make people talk – and in a good way! Cue me running through college with a Pride flag! One of the best ways to enable action is to create a reaction and respect those that attempt to do so.
After moving to Manchester, a city that welcomes and embraces our differences, I got used to not having to worry about other people’s disrespect. And so, returning to my home town in the summer, I expected to be back in that not so inclusive and respectful bubble, but I was greeted with something that I never expected to happen. My town was celebrating its second Pride! It was widely advertised, and people were made aware of the safe space.
Getting all my friends together - quiet but supportive allies for the LGBT+ community - we were shocked at the turnout! The number of people showing up was amazing, but how respectful each of them were engaging with LGBT+ representatives, participating in an LGBTQuiz, learning a bit of history and what words were acceptable to use, was so touching.
So, this week, if you can be respectful to one another then why not give it a go? It may not feel like a big act to you, but sometimes the smallest thing can mean the world for someone else.
Phill is a Just Like Us ambassador in Manchester. He writes to celebrate 2018 #AntiBullyingWeek.