‘Some people are gay. Get over it!’ That was the message that I delivered at the recent One Young World Summit 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US – an event which brought together 1,300 young delegates from 180 countries to discuss the key issues affecting the world today.
As well as being an employee of Aviva in York, England, I am a passionate supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. So I was delighted to speak at the human rights plenary session. I knew this was an amazing opportunity to address the diverse audience on LGBT equality around the world.
Homosexuality is still illegal in 77 countries, so getting the chance to speak to delegates from all over the world about my belief that everyone is born equal and should not persecuted based on sexual orientation, made me enormously proud.
My goal was to show delegates that LGBT people were just like them, and that homophobia is wrong, so everyone has to stand together to fight it. At Aviva, we work with the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity that supports young people who have been made homeless or mistreated for being LGBT. So my message to the more developed nations, was we cannot be complacent and must focus on changing the hearts, minds and perception of the wider population in order to eliminate tragedies of LGBT youth homelessness and homophobia.
In the less developed nations, there is a much larger issue at stake, where many people cannot be openly LGBT as it puts their life at risk. Following my speech, I heard a number of remarks from the delegates during the Q&A session, with one particular comment really touching me, making my heart heavy. A young guy wrote a note, which he gave someone else to read out because of his concern for his own safety when he returned to his country, where same-sex relationships are illegal.
It read: ‘Everyone is born equal they say, but when you have to live everyday pretending to be someone else, you know they aren’t.
‘I am gay and from a Muslim majority country. I am a proud gay man but I can never let anyone know because it would be equal to hiring an assassin to kill myself.
‘Every day is a struggle, I can’t love, can’t be who I am. I have to live a lie.
‘I am not asking for the right to get married to a man. All I am asking is the right to love a man.
‘Recently while travelling a friend asked me to go back and live as who I am, but I told her my country needs me. I can live a lie, but I can’t stay away knowing there are things I can do back in my country.
‘I cry every night, I weep deep inside at all times because I know there is no way out.
‘It’s either help others and live a lie or run away and be myself.’
We must come together as a community to support people like this. Peoples’ lives are at risk – people who are the same as me and you. I feel that I have a duty to do something.
The response to my speech was simply amazing. I receiving a standing ovation demonstrating the support from the audience – it felt hugely rewarding.
The rest of the summit was incredible and hundreds of people came to speak to me. They shared their stories and experiences, they wanted advice, they wanted to thank me, and they wanted to congratulate me. Many wanted to take pictures, especially of the Stonewall t-shirt I was wearing, with the simple message ‘Some people are gay. Get over it!’.
One person who stands out in my memory told me he was homophobic – until he heard my speech. He said I had changed his mind. I had tears in my eyes as I hugged him. Knowing I changed one person’s mind made it all worthwhile, and encourages me to change many more.
Now I want to work with other One Young World delegates from around the world to support the abolition of anti-LGBT legislation and to change people’s attitudes toward LGBT people and issues. And, of course, I will also continue working with Aviva and their diversity offering, through collaboration with other employers, UK gay organization Stonewall and the Albert Kennedy Trust.
You can discover more about Simon’s experiences at One Young World on his blog or follow him on Twitter. Watch Simon and Carolina Bonin of Nokia address the conference, as well as some of the reactions, here: