Australia boy's death reignites focus on LGBT bullying

Australian teenager Tyrone Unsworth with his mother Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Australian teenager Tyrone Unsworth with his mother

The bullying started when Tyrone Unsworth was just beginning to understand he was gay. (Warning: Some readers may find some language in this article offensive.)

He ignored the taunts as best he could. His favourite saying was "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me".

But a month ago, Tyrone was involved in a violent clash - allegedly with another student - outside school. According to his mother, Tyrone required surgery after being hit in the jaw with a fence paling. The attack left him afraid to return to school.

Then last Tuesday, Tyrone took his own life. He was 13.

Mother's vow to help others

Amanda Unsworth said her son, a boy with bright blue eyes who dreamed of becoming a vet or a fashion designer, had been bullied about his sexuality for years.

Classmates at his high school in Brisbane, Australia, called him "fairy", "gay boy" and "faggot".

"I feel like these people who were bullying Tyrone are the cause of why he is not here any more," she told the Courier-Mail newspaper. "They pushed him to the edge."

Aspley State High School principal Jacquinta Miller said no claims of bullying had been made.

"Neither the student nor his family ever came to us to say there was a problem of any kind," she said in a statement. "If they did, we absolutely would have stepped in."

On Friday, Ms Unsworth posted to Facebook an image of herself holding a newspaper story showing Tyrone's face and the headline "bullied to death".

"We Love and Miss you so much Tyrone," she wrote.

"We will stand up and fight to get as much awareness help and support for others out there, SAY NO TO BULLYING."

'Safe Schools' debate

Tyrone's story has ignited passionate debate since it was first reported and widely shared on Friday.

Much discussion surrounded the merits of a controversial Australian education programme, Safe Schools, that aims to stop LGBT bullying in schools.

According to its website, Safe Schools is designed to create "safe and supportive school environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people by reducing homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination in schools".

In March, the Australian government made sweeping changes to the programme after Christian groups and conservative MPs said it raised sexual issues that were inappropriate for teenagers and young children.

One Safe Schools opponent, Queensland MP George Christensen, at the time said the programme had been "gutted of all its bad content".

However, advocacy groups have maintained it should be expanded, pointing out the suicide rate among same-sex attracted youths remains a cause for concern.

According to depression awareness group Beyond Blue, young LGBT Australians are six times more likely to take their own lives than their peers. Bullying and violence increase the risk of self-harm, it said.

'Real lives are affected'

Writing in The Monthly in response to the tragedy, Sean Kelly said even a "glancing acquaintance with common sense" would show that children are influenced by the environments adults create for them.

"Too often we forget that real lives are affected by political arguments," he said.

The Courier-Mail's Lauren Martyn-Jones wrote that Tyrone's death was a reminder that homophobia can have tragic consequences.

"Tyrone Unsworth is just the sort of kid the Safe Schools programme was established to support, before it became mired in controversy and ended up as a whipping post for the right-wing, anti-PC brigade," she said.

In the Guardian, Dameyon Bonson wrote an opinion piece entitled: "I am Indigenous. I am gay. Unlike Tyrone Unsworth, I survived."

"We need to understand his life experience, and how political discourse may have challenged his hope," he said.

If you are feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations in the UK which offer advice and support, go online to In Australia, you can find similar information at Lifeline and Beyond Blue.

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