In the UK, LGBTQ+ people are protected by law and have equal rights. However, a more progressive legal system does not necessarily change a heteronormative culture. Because of our progressive laws, it might be tempting to think that there are no more specific issues with being a LGBTQ+ person in the UK. This is far from the truth.

In the consulting room, we continue to hear our clients facing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic experiences regularly. The society we live in is still largely heteronormative. Every day, we absorb heteronormative narratives, from the media, with social interactions, at work, and in our culture, influencing how we live our lives and how we feel about ourselves. A recent example of total lack of respect for others was when the actor Andrew Scott was interviewed on the BAFTA red carpet by BBC reporter Colin Paterson asking him about what he thinks of Barry Keoghan’s genitals in his famous naked scene in Saltburn. Andrew Scott was visibly uncomfortable with the question, yet, Colin Paterson persisted with that question, while not asking questions about Scott’s own brilliant performance in All Of Us Strangers.

The heteronormativity is so engrained that Paterson did not care about the offence that he caused. This is a very common experience of LGBTQ+ folks, being asked inappropriate questions about sex, our sex lives or body parts that they wouldn’t ask a heterosexual person, and then being blamed or criticised for getting upset. This is one example of the everyday societal homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that our LGBTQ+ clients face.

Queer people can also be the targets of serious attacks. While we have legal protection on the surface, the UK streets are not always safe for LGBTQ+ people. The simple gesture of holding your partner’s hand, a gesture that heterosexual people do without even thinking about it, can be a gesture that will provoke an attack for same-sex couples. A man who wears something that is perceived as feminine can be exposed to physical and psychological threats.

The heteronormative society creates an environment where LGBTQ+ people can suffer stigma, discrimination, social rejection and even violence, causing minority stress characterised by (1) identity concealment, (2) expectations of rejection, (3) internalised homophobia, affecting the mental health of LGBTQ+ people insidiously.

LGBTQ+ people have to navigate the world differently from heterosexual people, so it is important that therapists equip themselves with specific knowledge about the lives of Queer people because they need to understand the differences, and not “treat everyone the same” as this erases their specific struggles, especially the pervasive covert homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that some clients are subject to.

I wrote about it in Therapy Today (June 2023). In fact, the film All Of Us Strangers is a powerful illustration of the inner world of gay men faced with heteronormativity. I highly recommend watching it! LGBTQ+ clients can find Queer-informed counselling and psychotherapy very beneficial because they can be in a safe space, away from the societal heteronormative noise, where they can begin to understand themselves, and be more aware of the impact of our society. They can understand that feeling bad about themselves is often the effect of minority stress, and not because they’re “broken”. It is my everyday privilege and joy to be able to offer such a vital space for my LGBTQ+ clients.