MP Iain Stewart on how he was bullied for being gay

Deborah McGurran
Political editor, East of England

image copyrightPA
image captionIain Stewart says that bullying can leave deep emotional scars

The MP for Milton Keynes has spoken movingly about feeling introverted and lonely when he was bullied at school for being gay.

Iain Stewart, the former deputy chairman of the LGBT Tory Group (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) told MPs that homophobic bullying was still widespread in schools and the consequences could damage a young person's academic and social development.

"It can leave deep emotional scars and I know this from personal experience," he told the Westminster Hall debate.

"At school I knew I was gay but I didn't dare admit it.

"It was inconceivable to do that as a teenager growing up in the west of Scotland in the '80s."

Offensive words

He joked that it had been easier to admit to being a Tory in Glasgow than to being gay at school.

"I wasn't physically bullied and the verbal bullying was mild and short lived, but I was perceived to be different and it left deep scars.

"It was enough to make me feel isolated and introverted, and it took me a very long time to overcome it."

He told the chamber that last year in Milton Keynes there were four teenage suicides - three of them young gay men.

"Does that not tell us that there is a problem that needs to be addressed?" he asked.

He also revealed that only last week young people in Milton Keynes told him that they had heard offensive words being used in class - words which went unchecked.

And at one school in the town, pupils set up a Facebook page to 'out' supposedly gay classmates.

He quoted research by the gay rights organisation Stonewall which suggested that 90% of secondary teachers and 40%of primary teachers had regularly witnessed homophobic bullying.

"Teachers want to combat it but feel they lack the training or the support to do it", he said.

There is already a range of anti-bullying guidance for schools. It is one of the things that Ofsted checks on.

Strong stand

But the Schools Minister Nick Gibb accepted that more needs to be done.

"This is an issue the government is committed to tackling," he said.

image captionThe government says it is committed to tackling homophobic bullying

"In the programme for government we have said that we will help schools tackle bullying, in particular homophobic bullying.

"And in the White Paper we've said we will empower head teachers to take a strong stand against bullying especially racist, homophobic and other prejudiced-based bullying."

Mr Stewart accepts that bullying is not a new phenomenon.

He also accepts that a lot has been done to tackle it.

But he feels this is one aspect that needs much more attention, and he hopes that by speaking out people will take notice.