Homophobic taunts played a significant role in the suicide of a 14-year-old boy, a coronial inquest has found.
On July 25 2008 Kadina High School student Alex Wildman was found dead in the garage of his Lismore home. Two days earlier, months of harassment by other students culminated in Wildman being struck in the head while two other boys held his hair and a group of students looked on.
Just months earlier students had left homophobic messages on MySpace, calling him gay and a faggot.
“Why you go back out [sic] with that faggot … I hope he dies in a hole,” one message said.
Alex was also bullied at Sydney high schools before moving to the north coast in a bid to escape the homophobic taunts, the inquest heard.
Handing down his finding last week, Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson recommended the NSW Education Department ensure high schools with more than 500 students employ full-time counsellors and have dedicated email, phone, text or chat room options to report bullying.
He also recommended the introduction of legislation similar to South Australia giving schools jurisdiction over cyber-bullying and incidents between students outside school hours.
“Without excusing the bullying behaviour, it appears some of the bullying arose because of Alex’s relationships with girls and because of his failure to respond to physical violence,” MacPherson said.
“The problem … particularly as it applies to the modern phenomenon of cyber-bullying, is an issue for the whole school community.”
WayOut rural youth project coordinator Sue Hackney told Sydney Star Observer a recent survey of high school students from regional Victoria showed homophobia did not only affect same-sex attracted youth.
“Our survey shows that among people who identify as heterosexual, the experiences they have with homophobia are just as damaging,” Hackney said.
“Probably more so with the young men. If the young men are doing things the group culture believes is not consistent with the image they want to project, they’ll call each other a ‘faggot’ and they’ll use homophobic language as a way of monitoring behaviour.”
ACON community health director Craig Cooper said the homophobic bullying of heterosexuals needed to be taken seriously.
“Homophobic abuse, no matter who it’s directed at, is still a form of vilification and is therefore unacceptable,” he said.
“Helping young people understand the broader impact that homophobic abuse has is just as important as helping them understand the impact that such abuse has on GLBT individuals’ health and wellbeing.”
Anti-discrimination laws in NSW and Victoria protect people from abuse where a perpetrator has misassumed their sexuality, but no state protects people from being vilified as a sexuality the perpetrator knows they are not.