Homophobic Bullying (Schools)
Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, for what I think is the first time. Why do we need a debate on homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools? Is it not the case that any form of bullying is bad and should be tackled? I agree with that up to a point. Bullying is not a new phenomenon. It has always been the case that some children are cruel and will pick on others because they are perceived to be different in some way. Perhaps they are not wearing trendy clothes; they wear glasses; they are overweight; they have acne—there are all sorts of reasons. Schools should have in place effective anti-bullying policies, both to foster a general culture of respect, so that the likelihood of bullying is diminished in the first place and to be able to nip bullying in the bud quickly when it does take place. That is certainly true, but I want to demonstrate today why I believe that there is a particular problem with homophobic bullying that needs to be tackled.
Research commissioned by Stonewall in 2009 and conducted by YouGov found that 90% of secondary school teachers and 40% of primary school teachers had regularly witnessed homophobic bullying in schools. An earlier survey of young gay people found that 65% had been bullied themselves and 98% were aware of homophobic language being used. Although we do not yet have the figures, Stonewall is carrying out a major research programme and will publish an updated set of figures in the next few weeks. That will demonstrate—I had a meeting with Stonewall last week—that the problem very much remains.
There is clearly a problem to be tackled, but statistics do not convey the human cost of bullying. I want to draw attention to the case of the Crouch family, which has been covered in the press in the past few months and certainly does show the human cost of bullying. Dominic Crouch was a 15-year-old schoolboy in Gloucestershire. During a school trip in 2010, he played a game of spin the bottle with his classmates. As a forfeit, he had to kiss another boy. That event was videoed on a mobile phone and quickly spread virally round the school. Dominic suffered severe taunting for being gay. It is not actually known whether he was gay, but the intensity of the bullying was so great that Dominic committed suicide by jumping off a tall building. His father, Roger, commendably and bravely, spoke up publicly about his son’s suicide, to help to raise awareness of the problem and to encourage people to take action. However, Roger’s grief was so intense that he could not cope and he took his own life last November. Those two lives were lost utterly needlessly.
Sadly, the Crouch family’s story is not an isolated case. Last year in my area of Milton Keynes, there were four teenage suicides. Of those, three were young gay men. Does that not tell us that there is a problem that needs to be addressed?
Homophobic bullying can leave very deep emotional scars that can take a long time to heal and sometimes will never heal. I know that from personal experience. At school, I knew that I was gay, but I did not dare admit it, either to myself or to others. It was inconceivable for me to do that as a teenager growing up in the west of
Scotland in the mid-1980s. Indeed, with you, Mr Robertson, in the Chair, I will say that it was easier for me to admit that I was a Tory in Glasgow than it was to come clean about my sexual orientation.