“Are you gay?” “Yes.” “Then die.”
This is the latest episode of abuse a young homosexual man living in Faversham has had to endure.
The 24-year-old, who only wanted to be named as Rob, has spoken out about the persecution he has suffered since he was a child.
He says that the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in small communities such as Faversham often goes unreported and unseen. The bullying started at primary school.
Rob said: “I was a little bit different from the other boys. I hung around with groups of girls and I wasn’t into playing football.
“It was the first time I was branded ‘gay’ but I was so young and I wasn’t even sure what that was.
“Eventually, the bullying got worse and I was forced to move schools.
“For a while, everything was fine until I moved on to secondary school when it started up again and it was worse than before.
“There were a lot of crude remarks which at 11 I didn’t fully understand.
“The most heartbreaking thing for me in school was being in a classroom with the teachers completely ignoring the fact I was being targeted.
“The fact they chose to ignore what was going on meant that to me it reinforced what the bullies were saying. I started to think that I deserved the abuse, that I was the one in the wrong.
“They have a duty of care in the classroom and they failed me in that way.”
Groups of teenagers would insult him, throw stones at him and spit in his face.
Rob started having counselling sessions and began taking anti-depressants at just 14.
“It was a hard time. Being a teenager is hard for anyone but I think as a young gay person, it was very difficult,” Rob said.
“I felt something was wrong with me and for a time I really didn’t want to be gay.
“That was the worst thing that could happen to me. For a long time I thought if I was gay, I would be proving the bullies right.”
Rob was forced to move schools again but he soon started to come to terms with his sexuality, coming out to a small group of friends at 14 and telling his parents when he was 15.
He began meeting more people from the LGBT community and after finishing school at 16, he started working with vulnerable and elderly people, a venture he says gave him a new sense of worth.
Rob is happier since his school days but the persecution hasn’t stopped.
Strangers yell names such as ‘batty boy’ and ‘faggot’ at him in the street and heartbreakingly, Rob, who has lived in Faversham his entire life, says he would never take a partner to a local pub or restaurant for a date or walk hand-in-hand with another man through the town.
He said: “There are people of every aspect of the LGBT community in Faversham but it is a very quiet community.
“Faversham comes across as a very tolerant place but that is simply just on the surface. I do think they could help out more.
“When I’m abused in the street and nobody calls it out, that takes me back to the classroom. I have to constantly remind myself I am not the problem.”
Rob has been following LGBT charity Stonewall’s campaign called No Bystanders, which is a pledge now signed by more than 16,000 people which says that the public should call it out if they hear or see any homophobic behaviour.
Rob added: “Britain is a very progressive country which is brilliant but it’s mostly in a political sense and not socially.
“When I’m abused in the street and nobody calls it out, that takes me back to the classroom. I have to constantly remind myself I am not the problem” – Rob
“The fact is that this bullying behaviour towards the LGBT community is still going on and everyone is responsible for making that happen.”
Suicide statistics among the LGBT community are harrowing – suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10-24 but LGBT youth are four times more likely as their straight peers.
Rob says he’s not surprised by the stats and says he feels lucky that this didn’t become his fate.
He added: “I think there must be a lot of people out there at school going through what I went through and I feel lucky that I had such a good support network around me, but there are others who won’t have that and you just don’t know what situation they will end up in. It’s scary.
“Youngsters need to be taught in the classroom that this type of bullying is unacceptable. If people don’t call it out, say it is unacceptable, then it’s never going to stop.”
To find out more about national Anti-Bullying Week, from Monday to Friday, visit anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk