Hosting a phone in radio show, I’m often reminded that there is a significant percentage of the population who are disgusted by the thought of two people of the same sex being in love.
So I wasn’t that surprised when recently I found myself talking to a guest called "Nick". He’d been the victim of homophobic abuse on a train. While one person stepped in to tell him to ignore the abuse, everyone else just walked past. It was a horrific story, although I wasn’t that shocked by it. Maybe my job has desensitised me.
However, during the conversation Nick did say one thing that struck a chord. He said that he rarely walks down the street holding his boyfriend's hand, as he often gets abuse hurled at him.
That was a real head scratcher and, if I’m honest, I didn’t quite believe it. People actually shouted at him for showing a very mild form of affection to someone he loved?
My producer Katherine Boyle immediately piped up: "You and Justin Dealey (a reporter on my show) should go out and try it."
So that’s why I came to make a video of me holding the hand of a male colleague as we walked through Luton town centre. I should point out, we chose Luton because we work there, not because we think it is a particularly homophobic place.
What happened was, to naïve old me, absolutely shocking.
After a few minutes, I said to Justin "Am I imagining it, or are people looking at us?"
"Nope, it’s definitely happening" he replied.
It was bizarre. People were actually staring at us as we walked past. After a few seconds, I saw what appeared to be a dad with his daughter, who must have been around seven years old. He clocked us, pulled his daughter closer to him (out of our path) and said something along the lines of "Come on love, stay with me".
The walk was incredibly uncomfortable, as the staring continued. A few times we thought we heard someone mutter something under their breath, but that may have just been paranoia.
However, one thing we certainly didn’t imagine was when a young man walked past with his mum and he said, out loud, "Urrrgh". A sound of horror coupled with a look of hatred as two blokes holding hands walked past him.
Justin and I turned and chased after the chap to find out why he had that reaction. He told us gays were wrong, and that it was disgusting. He felt so outraged by what he’d seen that he had to make a comment loud enough for us to hear.
The lad was 16 years old.
All of this took place in just 10 minutes on a Tuesday morning, just after 10am. I shudder to think what would have happened on a Friday night.
The video we made has now been seen around the world, and the messages I’ve had in response — from people saying that they get this and worse every day, or that they’ve stopped holding their partners' hands altogether — break my heart.
A number of people have also responded by calling me brave for doing it. Brave? All I did was hold a fella’s hand.
It’s pretty nuts that two people can’t walk down the street holding hands for fear of reprisals. How do we stop it? I haven’t got a clue. Having argued with homophobes on and off air, there’s very little chance of the majority of them changing their minds. But, if we see someone being abused, in whatever form, isn’t it our duty to at least say something?
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