With attitudes towards homosexuality gradually getting more and more accepting, it comes as a surprise to many people in the UK that there is still a long way to go regarding homophobic behaviour in all areas.

As part of the Liberal Democrat Conference, this year being held in Sheffield, Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and the Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, held a question and answer session with the Fruitbowl group, which involves a number of gay, lesbian and bisexual youths in Sheffield city centre.

Through this session, the youths primarily focussed on attitudes towards homophobia in schools, and what is being done to prevent these attitudes in schools around Sheffield.

There is also growing concern for the youths, as they may not be able to use the NSPCC Centre on George Street, Sheffield, for much longer due to government cuts.

Following the 45 minute session, I had the chance to speak to Ms Featherstone about her plans for the future regarding homophobia in sport and schools, and the possibility of gay men being able to donate blood.

Over the past few months, Ms Featherstone has been doing a lot of work regarding homophobia in sport, and in particular football.

“I look forward to seeing a gay footballer. We’ve had Steven Davies [English cricket international] and Gareth Thomas [Welsh rugby international] come out, but out of 3,500 professional footballers, they can’t all be straight.”

Ms Featherstone tells me that the Football Association have a “large desire” to work together with the coalition government in an attempt to stamp out the long running homophobia in the sport. The only professional footballer to come out publicly was Justin Fashanu, who came out to The Sun newspaper in 1990, subsequently committing suicide in 1998 after years of abuse and rejection from both fans and his own family.

“The case of Justin Fashanu was a tragic one, and one that we don’t want to see repeated. I expect the situation to move forward. Myself and the Home Secretary [Theresa May] have held a round table with many sports including football, rugby, cricket and the London 2012 Olympics, with Hugh Robertson [Conservative MP and Minister for Sport] hoping to make the 2012 games very ‘gay friendly’.”

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I also asked Ms Featherstone to expand on what she had been speaking to the group earlier, regarding teachers’ attitudes in schools. I have heard reports on the teaching in Catholic schools, and obvious homophobia from some of the Religious Studies teachers.

“Teacher behaviour is important. It is legitimate for Catholics to say their beliefs; however it is never acceptable to me for them to use it in a hostile way in teaching,” she says.

“It is a difficult line, but they shouldn’t be free to do this.”

During the group discussion, Ms Featherstone took on board the views of individuals, and the difficulties they had faced coming out in schools. She aims to educate these schools effectively, with support groups such as those in attendance today leading the way.

The final issue that I put upon Ms Featherstone was the ever problematic situation of men who have sex with men – also known as MSMs – giving blood.

Arguably one of the most bizarre laws, gay men are forbidden from donating blood, despite all blood going through a vigorous screening process before acceptance.

“The issue is that the blood test can’t pick everything up, and the safety of blood is paramount,” she says.

“We are currently waiting for the results from a report by SaBTO (Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs), and following this, we could see gay men able to give blood in the future.”

Ms Featherstone champions the United Kingdom as one of the best countries in terms of equality; however the MSM situation is arguably one of its downfalls. Spain and Italy are the only two countries at present who do not ask any questions regarding ‘MSM’ during a blood test screening process.

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