Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson hits out at homophobic Twitter abuse

“Cowards use social media and the internet as an anonymous way to attack others for their sexuality"

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The Independent Online

The leader of the Scottish Conservative Party has publicly condemned internet trolls who have been bombarding her with homophobic abuse just days after she was named as one of most influential gay people in the country.

Ruth Davidson, who this week appeared on the Independent on Sunday’s annual Rainbow List of prominent LGBT people, said she had been compelled to speak out about the “significant amount” of abuse she received online in case young gay people who followed her on Facebook or Twitter began to think that putting up with such treatment was normal.

Ms Davidson said: “Young people need to know that they don’t have to take the abuse that they are called. It is not okay that hate words are thrown around playgrounds like confetti.

“Cowards use social media and the internet as an anonymous way to attack others for their sexuality. I think it’s important that people draw attention to unacceptable language on Facebook and Twitter.”

She added that as a politician, receiving abuse from members of the public “goes with the territory”, but that there was an important line between general criticism and the homophobic messages she often received on social media.

“I feel a responsibility to young gay people that they don’t read my timeline and think that I just passively accept homophobic abuse as all part of the job,” she said. “As if the correct response is to quietly sit back and take it. To believe that sort of language is okay.

“It is important to me that I retweet, highlight or challenge a cross section of homophobic abuse I receive so that young people feel able to do the same. We are allowed to say ‘No, this is not acceptable’.”

To illustrate her point, Ms Davidson published some of the recent homophobic tweets she has been sent in the Daily Record. One, sent by Mark Dougall, said “Ruth Davidson is a big fat dirty lesbo”, while another, from Kevin Clarke, read: “Sit doon Ruth Davidson ya lesbo”. Another, sent by Paula Stocks, said: “Anyone else here feel that Ruth Davidson is a butchy wee lesbo bitch??”

Ms Davidson’s comments come after a report by gay rights charity Stonewall this week found that homophobic bullying is still rife in Scottish schools. Around 88 per cent of secondary school teachers questioned by YouGov reported that pupils at their school had been targeted, while in primary schools the figure stood at 39 per cent.

The survey also found that almost a third of primary school staff in Scotland – and nearly a third of secondary school staff – had overheard homophobic language or negative remarks about lesbian, gay and bisexual people from other teachers.

The charity wants the Scottish Government to ensure that its anti-bullying strategy states it is the responsibility of all schools to tackle homophobic bullying and to include LGBT issues in the curriculum. Ministers responded by saying they wanted “every child and young person in Scotland to grow up free from bullying”.

Equality campaigners praised Ms Davidson’s decision to speak out about her online abusers. Colin Macfarlane, the director of Stonewall Scotland, said: “Ruth is absolutely right that homophobic language and abuse still blights the lives of far too many lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This type of language should be tackled wherever it occurs and particularly in schools where bullying can have a devastating impact on young people’s self-esteem.”

Tom French, policy and public affairs coordinator for the Equality Network charity, added: “As a high-profile public figure, Ruth Davidson should be congratulated for taking a stand to highlight the homophobic abuse she continues to receive and for pointing out just how unacceptable it is.”

Ms Davidson, 36, the MSP for Glasgow, became leader of the Scottish Tories in 2011 despite only joining the party in 2008. Before going into politics, she worked as a radio journalist at the BBC and also served as a signaller in the Territorial Army.

Lisa Markwell, the editor of The Independent on Sunday, said: “The disgraceful trolling of Ruth Davidson might almost be designed to advertise why the fight for proper recognition of LGBT issues is far from over. On Sunday the IoS published its Rainbow List of the 100 most influential LGBT people in Britain, and we were proud to put Ruth Davidson at number four.

“The judges were hugely impressed by the way she has represented herself and her party in Scotland in the last year, and it was their unanimous view that she should be in the top 10. Targeting so admirable a figure in this way shows that while much progress has been made, there remains a well of bigotry and online cowardice that needs to be confronted.”