Schools should establish gay/straight alliance groups to help stamp out homophobic bullying, a gay youth support worker says.
Sue Hackney from the WayOut rural youth project said the suicide of a 14-year-old boy two years ago was evidence that homophobic taunts were the modern insult of choice.
“Our message is, homophobia is a problem for the entire community, not just people who identify as gay or lesbian,” Hackney told Southern Star.
“In the past it may have been racist terminology or it may have been discrimination based on innuendo or if someone had a disability, but the contemporary flavour is homophobic.”
On July 25 2008 Alex Wildman, a student at Kadina High School, was found dead in the garage of his Lismore, NSW home. Two days earlier, months of harassment by other students culminated in Wildman being struck in the head while he was held by his hair.
Two months prior 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.
NSW Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson, in his finding handed down last week, found homophobic taunts played a significant role in suicide and has recommended the 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 that in South Australia giving schools jurisdiction over cyber-bullying and incidents between students occurring after hours and outside school.
“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.”
Hackney said 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,” she 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.”
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.