Evening Standard: In a week when TV doctor Christian Jessen faced many questions after he appeared to offer drugs on the hook-up app Grindr, I am preparing to give a speech on Monday for the NHS. I’ve been asked to talk about the endemic problem of drug abuse on the gay scene and the associated HIV rates that are rising just as fast as Dr Christian’s blood pressure is struggling.
I’m constantly asked what can be done about it in London. Tighter laws or regulations in our clubs? No, the real damage isn’t done in clubs where trained staff monitor behaviour and can call an ambulance. And tightening the laws only pushes the issue further underground. Instead, we need to tackle the problem at its roots: a society which tells gay children they are broken. In order to fix the adults, we need to fix the kids.
Many people are damaged by virtue of the pressures of growing up gay. Growing up feeling “less-than” as we listen to locker-room language is scarring. And for some young people the rejection is more literal; many are thrown out of their homes when they come out to their parents. In fact, an estimated 25 per cent of all new homeless are young LGBT people.
Yet this tremendous and lifelong psychological abuse is left untreated. As a result, many of us have self-esteem issues and can feel estranged from mainstream culture. It is this which, in part, causes a great number of us to turn to a drug-fuelled culture, to find sanctuary in a seemingly exciting and glamorous underground world where we feel accepted and liberated. I live with a “lipstick” lesbian and my young partner has never taken a drug in his life, but they are in the minority.
The endemic drug use has other damaging consequences — related crime, rehabilitation, the effects on family and loved ones is immeasurable — but on top of this, one in seven gay men in London is HIV-positive.
We condemn other forms of discrimination where we see them. Yet gay people are almost forced to accept that a degree of homophobia is a part of life.
I was reminded of this yesterday as I walked through London and a man cried out, “fucking queer c***”. No one blinked. I tried to imagine the reaction if he had made a racist comment to a passing black guy. The abuser might well have been arrested.
Even my own advisers counsel me to stay off LGBT issues in case it tarnishes my reputation or I get labelled a “gay rights campaigner”. I can’t imagine my Muslim and black rivals for the job of mayor feeling pressured into not speaking out about their own communities’ problems. By contrast, they are likely to capitalise on their backgrounds to garner electoral support.
Young people who identify as gay need counselling as standard from the moment they come out. This isn’t to help or advise them about their sexuality but to help them realise that the world is their friend and that it’s OK to be who they are. We also need to start serious LGBT-awareness in schools with compulsory sex relationship education, including an LGBT element. In all respects, being gay must be normalised and the same stringent etiquette we rightly afford other minorities, afforded us.
The United Kingdom has excelled in accepting and integrating cultures from around the world. We need to try just a little harder to complete this work. And this needs to start in the classroom.