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Heartstopper is everything I wanted to see as a teenager. It’s hard to grasp exactly how much has changed in the media (and we of course still aren’t fully there yet) but I remember gluing my eyes to the very few openly queer characters I saw on TV, and almost all of them were killed off or faced horrendous homophobia and discrimination.

We lived off creating queer interpretations of the straight storylines we were given – a single longing glance between two characters in a TV show inspired thousands of tumblr gifs, fanfiction & compilation videos. Heartstopper has changed everything for LGBTQ+ teens.

The scene where Nick googles ‘am I gay?’ was heart-wrenchingly familiar. The terrible quizzes and generally depressing information Nick finds are very relatable as I felt the exact same way when I was questioning my sexuality and gender identity.

I think almost everyone in the LGBTQ+ community can identify with how Nick feels in this scene, having a sexuality crisis and not knowing who you are. Nick’s desperate searches for information hit close to home because I also came across the same sources when looking for answers.

It’s very raw and very real, demonstrating that LGBTQ+ young people still need more reliable resources that can make the journey of questioning who you are a little easier. I also think the fact that Nick stumbles upon negative information also shows we need more positive, safer and reliable resources.

This is the information that young people should be able to find in school, not in desperate, late-night secret Google searches, hateful forums or fleeting comment threads.

TikTok creator @missmicae describes the scene in an incredible way: “It’s the self-realisation when we see Nick looking at these articles that focus on suicide rates and hate crimes, it’s the implications of what it means to understand that part of yourself and that how this identity will now be a permanent part of how you operate in the world.”

@missmicae Tw: mention of queer suicide and hate crimes #heartstopper #heartstoppernetflix ♬ original sound – MissMicae

When Nick watched a bisexual YouTuber talk about their coming out story, and that they didn’t have to choose any one gender to like, the relief Nick feels of finally finding a word that fits was so relatable.

Nick finally having his bisexual awakening while watching Pirates of the Caribbean felt so familiar as well, that final “oh, I get it now” after struggling to understand yourself.

Nick’s coming out scene right at the end of the series was everything I needed to see as a queer teenager. It was so refreshing to see Nick’s mum so immediately accepting and apologising for ever making him feel like he couldn’t come out to her. Within hours of the show airing on Netflix, one Twitter user wrote that they had used that scene to come out to their mum.

I also absolutely adored Elle’s storyline. As a trans person I was so happy to see how Elle’s storyline was represented – her relationships and her new school were the focal points.

Aside from a few mentions of previous transphobia at her old school, the show didn’t fall into the common stereotypical storylines focusing on gender dysphoria, bullying and struggles. Instead, her transness was incidental, and seeing her find friendship and happiness was incredibly affirming.

The way the characters interacted with her as well – Tao’s mum’s absolute acceptance of her and the developing relationship with Tao – were all pure joy to watch.

Of course, the show is not completely free from homophobia, with Harry representing every single homophobic bully, and Tara and Darcy facing nastiness from the other girls at school, but then again neither is our world.

While an unfortunate reality, both Tara and Darcy and Nick and Charlie choosing to celebrate their love instead of hiding showed the incredible courage it can take to be out and proud as a teenager.

Heartstopper, to me, is a celebration of queer joy. The incredible soundtrack combined with the show’s joy is something that is so often missing from LGBTQ+ media. Nick’s journey with his sexuality, finally being able to come out when he was ready and on his terms was so encouraging.

Section 28 still has lingering effects years after its repeal so the idea of a teacher being openly gay, let alone being supportive and encouraging of LGBTQ+ pupils was unheard of. Mr Ajayi was the teacher I needed in secondary school, and the fact that Charlie could be so open about his identity to him was incredible.

I really hope more young people get to have supportive teachers like Mr Ajayi one day – but it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes courage to change schools and make education more LGBTQ+ inclusive.

I volunteer with Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity, meaning I speak in schools about allyship, anti-bullying and my experiences growing up LGBTQ+.

They want every young person to grow up knowing that being LGBTQ+ is something to be celebrated – but half (48%) of schools still aren’t sending a positive message about being LGBT+ to young people.

There’s a long way to go, even in 2022 with Heartstopper landing on our screens.