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Mayor Jim Watson urges students to fight bullying, homophobia

Middle school students rally for Day of Pink

Jim Watson surrounded by Cedarview middle school students. Credit: Neil McKinnon
A Barrhaven middle school began celebrating International Day of Pink with a choreographed flash mob to Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
 
In attendance — and much delighted — was Mayor Jim Watson. Top brass from Ottawa’s English-language public school board, trustee Donna Blackburn, school staff and media were also on hand.
 
About 650 Cedarview Middle School students and staff wore pink T-shirts and spoke up against bullying, racism and homophobia. Principal Catherine Donnelly kicked off the event, saying it was about acceptance, respect and diversity.
 
“Instead of doing nothing and standing by, our students decided to do something,” says Donnelly.
 
Watson thanked the students for their hard work and performance and talked about the event’s purpose.
 
“I am impressed with the enthusiasm in the performance. We wear pink today for a very good reason. We bring attention to the harm, the hurt and the pain that comes from discrimination. There are many forms of discrimination. Homophobia, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, bullying, harassment, hate and violence are all part of discrimination. These are completely unacceptable in our society. Nobody should be tormented or ostracized because of who they are. People who discriminate may not think twice about doing it. But for the victim it may change the way they think for life,” says Watson.
 
Technology has changed the face of bullying, Watson said. With the internet, students are often attacked through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

 

“The world has changed since I was in elementary school. When I was a student, you could be bullied and you could have refuge at home. With cyber-bullying, you’re not even safe in your own home. We hear of too many people who are attacked by words and images on Facebook and Twitter. Try and think of someone who may be a bit different than you and then think that every day should be anti-bullying day. Not just today,” says Watson. “You are the future. It’s not about what’s on the outside but what comes from the inside. And you are beautiful.”
 
Corinne Morgan, event organizer and Cedarview art teacher, says she rarely sees openly gay children in middle school. But celebrating the Day of Pink helps nourish students’ self-esteem for when they come out in high school or later in life.
 
“I feel [the Day of Pink] is important for everyone to remember it’s not okay to bully,” says Alissa Tonkin, aged 12 and in Grade 7.
 
“I think it’s amazing that a large group of people can make a stand,” says Zainab Wakil, aged 11 and in Grade 6.
 
Day of Pink celebrations happened throughout Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) schools. Spokesperson Sharleen Hunter says the board hopes the event will have a lingering impact. She notes an event celebrating aboriginal culture happens next week, an idea that sprang from Day of Pink activities.
 
Colonel By Secondary School students also launched an online petition against homophobic bullying to be incorporated into school curriculum. Xtra was unable to reach anyone in time for comment, but you can find the petition here.