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2 min

Community takes action on bullying

Ontario politicians debate legislation that could empower gay students

'Our goal is to prevent homophobia in schools before it happens,' says Jeremy Dias.
A snow day in Ottawa, Jan 17, paused the No More Bullies school tour, but not for long.
 
What started as a frustrated tweet for Stu Schwartz, otherwise known as Majic 100’s Stuntman Stu, has become a full-fledged campaign called No More Bullies.
 
“Out of frustration I tweeted ‘If I have to go to every school in Ottawa and preach about bullying, I’ll do it,’” Schwartz says.
 
The No More Bullies team shares their firsthand experiences and shows a video about speaking up against bullying.
 
One speaker is a gay Ottawa teen who has discussed topics from gay stereotypes to his fear of holding his boyfriend’s hand in public.
 
The team has presented at six schools in Ottawa so far.
 
Queer youth-led organization Jer’s Vision has already been working with students to prevent bullying in schools for five years, doing workshops, presentations and supporting student-led initiatives like gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
 
Founder Jeremy Dias says the organization works with 75,000 kids each year, runs 11 national conferences and founded the Day of Pink, the International Day against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia and Transphobia.
 
“Our goal is to prevent homophobia in schools before it happens,” says Dias, adding that Jer’s Vision often refers youth to support services around the city.
 
Queer youth can seek support for a variety of issues, including bullying, at Pink Triangle Services’ peer-led support group on Wednesday nights.
 
Executive director Claudia Van den Heuvel says the program is expanding to include an unfacilitated drop-in period.
 
“It’s a space for youth to meet other youth that are queer, or at least queer-positive, and feel supported,” Van den Heuvel says.
 
Meanwhile, debates are ongoing about what legislative changes could help eliminate bullying.
 
Ottawa Councillor Allan Hubley urges Ontario politicians to move Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, to committee where it can be amended to include provisions from Bill 14, a private member’s bill known as the Anti-Bullying Act.
 
Both bills were introduced last November after Hubley’s son, Jamie, took his own life, partially as a result of homophobic bullying.
 
Hubley says he wants to see aspects of both bills go into a new piece of legislation.
 
For example, he says, Bill 13 allows schools to expel bullies, while Bill 14 offers remedial programs to deter bullies from continuing the behaviour.
 
Bill 13 has been criticized for advocating clubs, like GSAs, that seem to highlight differences between students.
 
Hubley says his son, who was the only openly gay male in his school, wanted to form a club at AY Jackson Secondary School that would support all students.
 
A Rainbow Alliance has since been formed there, Hubley says.
 
Van den Heuvel agrees that bullying happens for all kinds of reasons, but she says it’s important to note that there is a stigma associated with being gay.
 
“It’s not like when you have braces when you’re a kid and years later you don’t,” she says. “In a lot of cases people are finding comparatives that are superficial.”
 
Van den Heuvel says new legislation could empower gay students and allow staff to stop anti-gay bullying in any school environment, whether a Catholic school or a school in a small town.
 
But several Catholic school boards have said they will not allow the formation of groups termed gay-straight alliances.
 
Van den Heuvel says it’s too soon to tell what impact the legislation will have.
 
“If it’s not enforced, it becomes meaningless,” she says.