3 min

Gay teen’s suicide brings some changes

Bullies' identities remain unknown

Credit: Suzy Malik Illustration

The identities of the homophobic bullies who taunted 13-year-old gay teen Shaquille Wisdom leading up to his suicide in October remain unknown.

The principal of Ajax High School says the school is no closer to finding those responsible for the cyberbullying and physical attacks that Wisdom endured after being outed by a friend.

“No further information has come to us,” says Phil Matsushita.

After Wisdom’s suicide both Matsushita and the Durham District School Board told Xtra they were unaware of any bullying until reports appeared in the media.

Matsushita, however, insists the school is doing everything it can to protect students.

“It’s a concern for us,” he says. “The safety of students is a prime concern.”

Matsushita says the school brought in a representative from Kids Help Phone to talk to staff and plans to have the organization address students this winter.

Matsushita says the school is also bringing in motivational speaker Karyn Gordon to talk to students. Gordon, whose speaking tours are sponsored by Loblaws and Maple Leaf Foods, calls herself Doctor Karyn — or dk — and says on her website she has a “doctorate in marriage and family.”

Gordon runs a private counselling practice in Toronto and is also the youth expert for national teen magazine Verve and the relationship expert on The Mom Show, airing on the Slice Network.

“She’ll be talking about self-esteem, healthy self-image, how to communicate during conflict,” says Matsushita.

Matsushita also points to the Ally Week that the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) held in November, a month after Wisdom’s suicide.

“It was held to supply support to students,” he says. “We put up pictures of 50 well-known celebrities who fall into the category of sexual orientation. Students saw them and they said, ‘I never knew these people had this preference.'”

Matsushita says the GSA will also hold a day of silence in April in support of queer students.

“Students take a vow to remain silent to remember those who are forced into silence by harassment and bullying and violence,” he says.

Amy Nagel, a health promoter at the Ajax Youth Centre, runs a drop-in group for queer teens every Tuesday. She says days of silence have been effective at other area schools.

“The day of silence had a big effect on those who were watching and participating,” she says.

Nagel says that educating staff and students about resources such as Kids Help Phone is also a good idea. She suggests that schools should also take such steps as developing library collections with queer books and materials and coming up their own antihomophobia education initiatives.

Nagel also says it’s important for students to know they can approach specific teachers — such as those working with the school’s GSA — to talk about sexuality. She says schools should attempt to involve parents and the wider community in antihomophobia activities as well.

Matsushita says he is encouraged by the school’s steps.

“All of this is trying to supply students with avenues to be supportive,” he says. “I definitely see positive avenues.”

Nobody from the Durham District School Board returned repeated phone calls from Xtra, nor does the board’s website reveal any new programs or reviews of existing programs the board might have implemented since Wisdom’s suicide. The website also doesn’t explain why the board declined to work with queer lobby group Egale Canada on their survey of homophoia and Canadian students.

The Egale survey, aimed at students in Grade 8 and up, asks questions not only about sexual orientation and gender identity but about language at school, bullying, the curriculum and teacher and staff support. Straight students are asked about their openness to queer students.

Only three school boards in Canada have agreed to work with Egale on the survey: Thunder Bay; one in Nova Scotia; and in Victoria, BC. In those schools, the survey will be addressed in some classes. Participation is completely voluntary and results will go directly and anonymously to Egale. Students in other school districts across the country can fill out the survey online.For more on the Ajax Youth Centre visit For more on Egale’s student survey visit