Sam Smith might be immensely popular these days, selling millions of records and getting two handfuls’ worth of Grammys, but as a visibly gay guy, it’s not always been this way for him.
Though people at his school in Bishop’s Stortford, East Hertfordshire, were pretty accepting when he came out as gay, aged 11, the boys from a neighbouring school weren’t so understanding, and would bully him. ‘A bunch of boys from a rival school would shout insults at me as I walked from my home to the train station,’
‘I remember walking to the station getting “faggot” shouted at me all the time.
‘It was the most mortifying thing. Not so much for me. I knew these people were stupid, uneducated twats.’
For many small-town gays, the assumption is that things will get better when you move to the big city. And although that’s true at times, there were 11,400 reported homophobic attacks in London in a year from 2013-2014. And whether he reported it or not, Sam was victim of one once.
He told The Sun: ‘When I moved to London I got punched in the neck walking back from work. It was definitely homophobic.’
‘I was on the phone, speaking quite loudly, and had pink earphones on, so it was pretty clear I was gay.’
Why is he talking about it now? He wants to let young gay kids know that if he can be openly gay and accepted as a pop star, then they can be openly gay, too ‘At the beginning of last year, I wasn’t talking about my sexuality as much. But I’ve sold loads of records now and I have a voice.’
‘I can speak about this from a position of power, compared to two years ago where it would have been pissing in the wind. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere.’
Sam only came out in May 2014, but he’s got support for doing the right thing from pretty high up places. ‘[Ellen DeGeneres] said to me that the fact I’m openly gay and doing what I’m doing is an important thing. She said a kid who is feeling suicidal will look at me and say, “He’s accepted, so it’s OK, I want to be like him.” That’s why it’s so important.’
It’s quite a lot of responsibility to be taking on, because there aren’t a lot of young gay guys in the public eye – well, not out ones, really. And gay rights have a long way to go – especially in schools, where it was today revealed that one in five gay male pupils has been homophobically bullied at school by* teachers*.
However, right now, Sam seems to be on the right side of history. Plus, we bet this time round, idiots are asking for his autograph instead of punching him in the neck.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.