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Bullies told gay teen to kill himself, friend says -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The death of a teenage boy in Brisbane two weeks ago is forcing people to face up to the reality that young gay people are dramatically overrepresented in suicides.

Tyrone Unsworth killed himself after he was taunted with homophobic slurs and beaten up so badly he was hospitalised.

There are hard questions to be asked about whether enough is being done to stop bullying of children like Tyrone.

Over the weekend, his family joined a large public rally to demand answers and call for urgent change in the education system.

Michael Atkin reports and a warning - this story contains some distressing content.


MICHAEL ATKIN, REPORTER: Brisbane teenager Tyrone Unsworth was different to other boys in his Year 7 class.

He was Indigenous, gay and loved dressing up.


GYPSIE-LEE EDWARDS KENNARD, FRIEND: He loved girlie things. He even, you know, he's chosen dresses for me and his mum to wear.

You know, he's asked to use my make-up and you know, kids obviously thought that, because he's like that, he could be a target for their bullying.


MICHAEL ATKIN: Away from school, Tyrone's family say he was a free spirit.

TWIGGY JONES, GRANDMOTHER: Very happy-go-lucky, like he owned nature. He was just out there, spiritual in the yard, and thought it was like a forest everywhere he went.

MICHAEL ATKIN: But by the age of 13, that had all changed.

What was it like for you, as his grandmother, to hear these stories about him being bullied at school?

TWIGGY JONES: Very, very sad. It's, yeah, heartbreaking.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Tyrone's mother, Amanda, claims he was subject to a hateful bullying campaign at school and was repeatedly called names like "faggot", "fairy" and "gay boy".

But Aspley State High School says it had no idea the bullying was going on until it was too late.

Around one month ago, the bullying went way beyond playground taunts.

GYPSIE-LEE EDWARDS KENNARD: This kid picked up a fence paling and hit him from behind, and knocked him out and broke Tyrone's jaw.

TWIGGY JONES: Didn't want to go to school. He was adamant that he didn't want to go back to school.

We tried to force him, but he just kept saying, "No. I don't want to go back to school."

MICHAEL ATKIN: As his physical injuries healed, his emotional scars deepened.

You were spending time with Tyrone the day before he took his life. What was he telling you?

GYPSIE-LEE EDWARDS KENNARD: He was an absolute mess. Crying his eyes out. Telling me that everyone wants him dead. I said, "Tyrone, what do you mean everyone wants you dead?" and he said, "The kids at school keep telling me to go kill myself."

And I was obviously gobsmacked, you know?

MICHAEL ATKIN: Tyrone died the next day, leaving friends and family devastated.

MICHAEL ATKIN: It's just been a really hard few days, and I'm just trying my hardest to be there for Tyrone's family.

It's just, you know, they've got all these unanswered questions and, you know, yeah, it's been really hard.

MAN: We're in Taylor's Square in Sydney for a vigil for Tyrone Unsworth ...

MICHAEL ATKIN: Tyrone's story has moved people across the country, including gay Federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson.

TIM WILSON, LIBERAL MP: And for all young LGBTI children who are experiencing bullying and harassment, we should work to stop it and encourage resilience, because your life will be incredible.

I was moved to give a speech because, firstly, I don't think such a horrific act should go unnoticed, particularly when it reflects a broader challenge in society around bullying of young kids.

WOMAN: For Tyrone! In his name!

CROWD: We demand safe schools today!

MICHAEL ATKIN: Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered in Brisbane to demand the controversial Safe Schools program be mandatory to prevent bullying of queer students.

SPEAKER: Every single person here knows a young person like Tyrone. Tyrone could have been your child, your friend.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Amongst the crowd was William, who approached 7.30 desperate to share his story.

WILLIAM, FATHER: I had a gay daughter who, in her mid-20s, committed suicide. She was bullied and vilified from the beginning of school. She was different.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Tyrone's mother, Amanda, still overcome with grief, cancelled her speech and didn't attend the rally.

SPEAKER: A big message that the family wants to get out as well is that things have to change.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Gay uni student Christopher Hanson hid his sexuality during his teens and struggled with depression.

CHRISTOPHER HANSON: Whether you're in the closet, out, or questioning yourself, please know that you're not alone.

Please know that support is available.

This is, you know, a massive issue. Homophobia and transphobia in our society and it's extremely sad that we have to wait for something as horrible as this to happen for it to kind of receive the attention that it needs.

Sex education, throughout all of my schooling, essentially pretended that any kind of sexual agenda diversity didn't exist.

There was no mention whatsoever to anything other than heterosexual activity.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Tim Wilson says queer students often suffer in silence because they don't know other people like them.

TIM WILSON: LGBTI kids often don't have reference points or role models that they can see where their future lies.

And they might void themselves, because of the negative messages they get from others, to the point where they no longer have confidence in themselves.

And I say that because that was my experience throughout my teenage years.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Chris hangs out at Open Doors, a queer youth service in Brisbane's inner city where most young people have experienced bullying.

PAM BARKER, OPEN DOORS: Taunting, name-calling, hitting, kicking, spitting, you know, telling of stories and spreading rumours.

MICHAEL ATKIN: How often is that bullying based around a misunderstanding of who that young person is and fear of their sexuality?

PAM BARKER: 100 per cent. It's totally based on that.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Rates of suicide amongst queer young people are six times higher than other Australians.

Three Open Doors clients have completed suicide in the last 18 months.

PAM BARKER: We were working quite closely to support these young people, and unfortunately, due to the factors that presented in these young people's lives, that was the result of that torment and of that lack of acceptance within the community and that connection to community.

MICHAEL ATKIN: Open Doors has approached Tyrone's school about working with them to better educate students about gender and sexuality.

PAM BARKER: It would be good to have education programs in all schools, as well Aspley moving forward, that would allow students to have these conversations and get it out in the open.

WOMAN: We have to keep fighting for Tyrone, for all the Tyrones, in a symbolic gesture of love!

For Tyrone - release all that love!

MICHAEL ATKIN: Any change is too late for Tyrone Unsworth, but his family want it to be different for other young people.

TWIGGY JONES: I hope it brings it out in a big way that all these kids know that, now, there's gonna be big support for 'em singing out for help.

LEIGH SALES: Michael Atkin with that report and we asked the Queensland Education Department if we could speak with staff at Aspley State High School. It declined.

If that story has raised concerns for you, remember help is available.

You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.