Please take the time to read this tragic story of Dominic Crouch and his family.
On 18 May 2010, Dominic committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a six-storey block of flats near his school in Cheltenham. He was 15. In the note he left his family, he wrote: “Dear Family, I’m so so sorry for what I’m about to do. I have been bullied a lot recently and had a lot of shit made up about me that ain’t true.”
At the inquest, nearly six months later, it emerged that Dominic had kissed a boy on a school trip during a game of spin the bottle…some participants recorded the game on their mobile phones and were subsequently believed to have been circulating the images among other friends. The school invesigation concluded that there was “no clear evidence” as to whether something had been said to Dominic on the morning of his death that might have caused him sufficient upset to take his own life. For Dominic’s father, however, there was little doubt that his son had been the victim of homophobic bullying.
According to a 2007 report by Stonewall, the gay and lesbian lobbying organisation, 65% of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have been the victims of bullying. And even if gay pupils are not direct targets, they are “learning in an environment where homophobic language and comments are commonplace”. Ninety-eight per cent of young gay people hear the phrases “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” in school . How often have you heard that in your school as a teacher? So often.
A Stonewall report in 2009 found that eight in 10 secondary-school teachers and two in five primary-school teachers reported hearing homophobic insults such as “poof”, “dyke”, “queer” and “faggot”.
When discussing gay marriage on last week’s Question Time, Will Young (singer) said, I’m not so concerned about whether I can marry as a gay man. What I want to see change in our society is the way that young people in our secondary schools use gay as a regular term of abuse. Is that too much to ask?
Dominic Crouch’s father, Roger, had championed that campaign in schools following Dominic’s death, even winning a Stonewall “Hero of the Year” award last November. Just a few weeks later, Roger Crouch hanged himself in the garage of the family home. His emotions had been battered, his energy had been exhausted, he could go on no longer. He was 55.
Suran Dickson, who worked closely with Roger Crouch as the chief executive of Diversity Role Models, an organisation that seeks to prevent homophobic bullying in schools, says that the situation is “much worse than when I was younger. It’s more prevalent. There are more openly gay people in the public eye and more young people coming out earlier, but what is lacking is education of their contemporaries. It hasn’t caught up so there’s no explaining going on from the bottom up.
“Being gay for a young person is still considered one of the worst things to be. I see it in workshops all the time. The first question I ask is: ‘How would you react if one of your friends was gay? Could you carry on being friends with them?’ When I asked this yesterday, 20 out of 26 kids said they couldn’t be friends with a gay person, either because they believe they have Aids or because they think their friend might hit on them. In my experience, that’s the same across all socio-economic backgrounds, comprehensive or independent schools.”
Doesn’t this tragedy make you want to do all you can to challenge homophobia in our schools? It absolutely does for me because it doesn’t start in secondaries. It starts earlier and we need to be proactive in showing that all people should be respected, regardless of sexual orientation.
Some years ago at an LGBT conference, I attended a workshop run by a Sunderland school that had developed a resource pack of books to share with children in primary schools, that would help teachers promote an acceptance of a range of sexual orientation.
And Tango makes Three is the true tale of 2 male penguin partners in a New York Zoo who are given an egg to care for when a female penguin dies, leaving the egg needing cared for. A lovely book which shows that families can be different.
Other recommended books include King and King, The Sissy Duckling, William’s Doll.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child decrees ‘No child should be treated unfairly on any basis’. LGBT Youth Scotland have developed UNCRC rights thus;
- We believe that places of learning should recognise and value diversity and support both staff and students to come out should they choose to do so
- LGBT people should be able to easily access accurate and relevant information, and an education which furthers their knowledge and develops their abilities
- We will strive to be an organisation which supports LGBT young people and adults to learn in a safe and supportive environment
Let’s commit ourselves as teachers and leaders in education to make sure Dominic’s death changes our practice so that our children emerging as LGBT themselves or living in LGBT families or questioning their own sexuality can be free to be themselves and to be respected.