My name is Cameron Aitken and I am an out gay 17-year-old high school student in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I’m also a triplet, a musician and a writer.
On my first day of high school in 2008, I was called a fag before I made it to the cafeteria for lunch. My assailant was one of a crowd and no one standing by stood up for me. Being gay in northern Ontario isn’t the easiest thing to do, but I am truly fortunate to have wonderful parents who accept me for who I am.
It’s sad to say that I was very luck to only be taunted verbally. Friends of mine have been assaulted, pushed into lockers and even threatened with their lives in high schools around the city. One friend in particular, dropped out of school several times, because he could no longer endure the abuse. He would eventually build himself back up again, only to be pushed down the second he mustered the courage to go to class. It took him until his early twenties to receive his high school Diploma.
I would love to say that this was an extreme example, but it’s not. There are dozens of stories like this in my city alone. Sault Ste. Marie Ontario is not a very accepting or tolerant community. Good things do not grow here. The Sault has bred only a tradition of hate, discrimination and homophobia. In the early 2000’s, one student even sued the school board for discrimination he faced while in high school and won!
In my grade 10 year, an organization called Jer’s Vision came to speak about homophobic and transphobic bullying at my school. They spoke at several of the other high schools in the region too. The speaker shared his experiences of being bullied and physically assaulted.
Jer’s Vision gave a touching and emotional presentation, and you could see a difference immediately. After the presentation, people thought before they said something, and removed derogatory words from their vocabulary. Teachers were more comfortable and more committed in addressing bullying, especially based on sexual orientation—-and I felt safer. Jer’s vision has since come to speak at conferences, elementary & high schools, and a gala.
After hearing these presentations from Jer’s Vision, I mustered the courage to push for change.
When I returned to school that year, I started a Gay Straight Alliance with the help of my friends. We have run a number of initiatives in the school, such as events for the Day of Purple, and a community gala for the International Day Against Homophobia. The GSA is in its second year of operation and this year we presented to classes about homophobic bullying and what the GSA is doing about these issues.
Today I heard about the suicide of Jamie Hubley. He was a 15-year-old high school in the Ottawa area. I was the same age as Jamie when I first heard about Jer’s Vision.
I believe in the work that Jer’s Vision does. They connect with today’s youth and empower them to make a change and I am a firsthand example of what such presentations have accomplished. Jer’s Vision helped me let my light shine and as Nelson Mandela once said, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
I hope that in the future, Jer’s Vision will be able at every school in Canada. I believe in a future where bullying becomes obsolete and I hope to work alongside Jer’s Vision to make this dream into a reality.
Join me in making a difference! Please wear purple this Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 to remember those who are not here as a result of bullying; and get involved in your community by volunteering or supporting youth initiatives. You can also join me in making a donation to Jer’s Vision to support work to address bullying, discrimination, homophobia & transphobia in schools.