Belfast Telegraph

Live and let live best philosophy for us to follow

By Liam Clarke

Listening to Stephen Nolan's interview with 'Paul' yesterday brought home to me how much attitudes are changing to LGBT rights and how that could eventually drive greater tolerance in society generally.

Paul is an 11-year-old who was born a girl but will shortly be attending secondary school as a boy. No sex change has taken place, just a change of clothes.

Paul talked about how it had been distressing for him to live as a girl, of crying all night about it, and how pleased he was to be "getting freedom". Many of his friends from his old primary are transferring with him and have been supportive.

In the past, not so long ago, the most common response to such a case would have been to tell Paul to live his life differently rather than trying to be helpful and supportive. People would have been cruel to be kind, and would have ended up just being cruel.

I can recall profound regret when a close relative did not tell me he was gay until he had left home and school. He was afraid of what people might say.

That impacted on his adolescence, as it does on most people who try to keep up appearances or live a lie. We shouldn't force young people with anxieties about sexuality to live like spies, concealing their true identity.

The fact that you can't force people into a, well, "straightjacket", was brought home by a recent survey that showed only 72% of people classified themselves as purely heterosexual, but in the 18-24 age group it fell to 46%.

This should not come as a surprise. The scale used was the one drawn up by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s.

It runs from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (gay) with 3 as equally gay and straight. 11.6% of males between the ages of 20 and 35 had a rating of 3 and 10% of men were almost exclusively homosexual for at least three years of their lives.

The modern figures are higher, but perhaps that is because people are no longer afraid to be open - with themselves or others - about these issues.

In the last few years as increasing numbers of people, including sports and music stars, declare their sexuality public tolerance increases, as shown in polls.

"We are not as you expected us to be", as Jeff Dudgeon, the UUP councillor, put it.

Accepting that other people may feel differently about sex than we do, and are happier if they are left alone without our two pennyworths, is an important lesson in tolerance.

In a society like this many of us do not fully understand the political or religious background of others or their lifetime experiences.

This makes it easier to judge and condemn than to understand or accept.

We can live together more easily as a community once we accept that we don't need to approve of the opinions or standards by which others live their lives.

Belfast Telegraph


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