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Homophobic prejudice casts a long shadow

  • 17 October 2018


Next month, on 22 November, it will be two years since Aspley State High School student Tyrone Unsworth took his own life. He was 13.

We lose more than 2800 Australians to suicide every year, with 65,000 Australians attempting suicide annually; the number of people impacted by those attempts is exponential. What makes the loss of Tyrone stand out is that his suicide followed years of homophobic bullying, and occurred in the midst of conservative attacks on the Safe Schools program, and a divisive postal plebiscite as to whether non-heterosexual people deserved the right to marry.

Tyrone was different. In high school, that made him fair game for abuse. In the wake of his death, Tyrone's mother told News Corp that her son 'was a really feminine male, he loved fashion, he loved make-up and the boys always picked on him, calling him gay-boy, faggot, fairy; it was a constant thing from year five.'

Suicide does not occur in a vacuum. In Tyrone's case, the events of 27 October 2016 prefigured his suicide. Tyrone's aunt stated that, on that day, the boy chose to defend a young girl who'd been spat on outside the Zillmere Police Citizens Youth Club. In retaliation, Tyrone was struck from behind by a fellow student brandishing a fence paling, which broke his jaw. Surgery followed. The lad never returned to school.

The ABC's 7.30 program interviewed a friend who recalled that, the day before his suicide, Tyrone 'was an absolute mess, crying his eyes out and telling me everyone wants him dead and I said, "Tyrone, what do you mean everyone wants you dead?" He said, "The kids at school keep telling me to go kill myself", and I was obviously gobsmacked.' The other students 'did call him nasty names, like faggot and fairy. He loved girly things, he's chosen dresses for me and his mum to wear, he's asked to use makeup. Kids obviously thought because he's like that he could be a target for their bullying.'

For some people of faith — truly, for many people of faith — deviation from an expected norm of sexual orientation and expression is anathema. Encouragingly, 74 per cent of participants in a Fairfax-Ipsos poll oppose discrimination against gay students and teachers in our school system.

That still leaves 21 per cent of participants who believed religious schools should have the right to discriminate against gay teachers and students. (The percentage wishing to discriminate