From an early age I knew I was gay, but it wasn’t until I was 14 that the enormity of this struck me. And I was horrified.
I wanted to feel ‘normal’; to grow up and have the same family life as my parents, the same prospects and hopes as my friends. Every evening after school, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and cry.
After doing this for six months, I realised that crying hadn’t changed anything. So I decided that I had two options: I could either kill myself or accept I was gay and get on with my life.
I chose the latter.
We must work to create an environment in the home and at schools and colleges where gay teenagers feel understood and accepted, and work to build a society where homophobia is as taboo as racism is now (stock image)
A few years later, someone at my school, a Catholic convent, did kill himself because he was gay and couldn’t cope. I understood how he must have felt.
Homosexuality was never discussed by the nuns and teachers — it was as though gay men and women didn’t exist. In fact, the page discussing same-sex attraction in a biology textbook in the school library had been removed, as though simply reading about it might corrupt us.
For those who have never struggled with their sexuality, it is hard to understand how lonely this feels.
Later, when I started working in A&E, and despite far greater tolerance than when I was a teenager, I was shocked at the number of youngsters I saw who had either tried to kill themselves or self-harmed because they were unable to come to terms with their sexuality.
The tragedy of it all, the misery they and their families endured, is something I will never forget.
Given my personal history, you will understand why I was delighted to read comments made by Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, this week.
She said that all children should learn about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans) issues at school, and about gay family life; that some people can have two mothers or two fathers.
It follows protests by Muslim and Christian parents at a school in Birmingham who have objected to their children being taught about same-sex relationships and homophobia as part of the Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) classes.
I would normally defend to the hilt the right of parents to have a say on what their children are taught at school, but on this issue I stand firm. We are facing a mental health crisis, and fear and confusion over their sexuality is a trigger for some young people.
Studies show that more than half of all students subjected to homophobic bullying say they have thought about suicide, and about 20 per cent have actively attempted it.
Gay youngsters are three times more likely to have made a serious attempt on their lives than teenagers generally. The gay rights group Stonewall reports that two-thirds of gay pupils experience homophobic bullying, rising to 75 per cent in faith schools. For their sake, it is imperative that this is discussed.
Given my personal history, you will understand why I was delighted to read comments made by Amanda Spielman (pictured), the head of Ofsted, this week
This doesn’t mean talking about the mechanics of sex to young children, as critics fear. It’s about acknowledging that some people are gay, and that it’s OK.
For those coming to terms with their feelings, this can make all the difference. I certainly wish such discussions had been part of the curriculum at my school. It would have prevented a lot of anguish.
We must work to create an environment in the home and at schools and colleges where gay teenagers feel understood and accepted, and work to build a society where homophobia is as taboo as racism is now.
I also believe that it is the children of parents who protest vociferously about teaching LGBT issues who will benefit most from class discussions. Some of them will be gay whether Mum and Dad like it or not, and because of strict religious beliefs these children are likely to feel even more isolated.
It is our duty to help youngsters during this time, and the best way to do that is to ensure all children are presented with information about same-sex attraction in a non-judgmental way.
Just as fundamentalist Christians who don’t believe in evolution cannot influence the biology curriculum to fit in with their views, so parents of religious persuasions who don’t approve of homosexuality cannot be allowed to influence what their children are taught.
In 21st-century Britain, we must not tolerate intolerance.
The NHS needs its medical mavericks
Professor Richard Lacey, the world-renowned microbiologist who first warned the world about the human risks of BSE — ‘mad cow disease’ — has died.
As I read his obituary this week, I marvelled at his bravery. He was ridiculed, vilified and lost his job after refusing to be silenced about the possibility that BSE could be transmitted to humans. He was, however, ultimately vindicated.
The history of medicine is full of noble men and women like him who spoke out regardless of the consequences.
Barry Marshall, an Australian doctor, discovered the link between a bacterial infection and stomach ulcers. He, too, was laughed at and resorted to drastic measures to prove his point. He drank a vile concoction containing the bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) and developed an ulcer to prove he was right.
Now, prompt antibiotic treatment has made ulcers a rarity.
Sohier Elneil, a consultant gynaecologist and last year’s winner of the Daily Mail Health Hero award, fought a long battle for women who had suffered the pain and trauma of vaginal mesh surgery.
Miss Elneil was shunned and attacked by some colleagues for making a stand but ultimately was proved right.
My worry is that younger doctors have been so indoctrinated by a ‘tick-box’ culture in the NHS that there are fewer mavericks or independent thinkers — and that is a loss to us all.
Dr Max prescribes… START4LIFE CAMPAIGN TO HELP WEAN BABIES
New research by Public Health England suggests that one in four new parents lacks confidence about weaning their infant. They don’t know how to do it or when. So I welcome a campaign aimed at guiding them through the process: nhs.uk/start4life/weaning
How the elderly can stay in their home
I recently visited an elderly relative who has Alzheimer’s and is now quite impaired.
To be honest, I was astonished that she wasn’t already in a care home given that she’d been found wandering the streets on several occasions — but that visit was a revelation.
Carers come in three times a day, but her family are also making use of the latest digital technology to keep her in her much-loved home with some degree of independence.
For example, every time she approached the front door, a sensor would activate a device and a recording of her son saying, ‘Mum, don’t leave the house unless you’re with someone else’ or, ‘Mum, you’ve opened the door, please go back inside the house’.
If the door was left open too long, a neighbour would be automatically alerted.
It also played recordings of her son reminding her to make a cup of tea or to go to bed. And because it was her son’s voice, she listened to it. It’s exactly the sort of technical innovation that’s needed.
Power of listening
Opposition to childhood vaccines is growing, and the views of the ‘anti-vaxxers’ has taken hold, according to alarming research carried out by Queen Mary University of London.
I think this is, at least in part, the fault of doctors. We’ve arrogantly dismissed the genuine fears of people who worry about the vaccination of their children, bombarding them with statistics instead.
Professor Heidi Larson at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine — and head of its Vaccine Confidence Project — says that listening to people’s concerns without interruption, and talking them through, does bear fruit. Doctors need to heed her advice: we need to listen more and lecture less.