NEWS: Bullied teen to promote acceptance at school for International Day of Pink

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Bullied teen promotes acceptance at school for International Day of Pink
by Joe Lofaro

It’s been six years since two high school students in Nova Scotia took a bold stand against bullying of a fellow classmate by wearing pink shirts to school. Their actions evolved into what’s called today the International Day of Pink and Ottawa students are again showing their support.

To stand up for a student who was bullied in 2007 for wearing a pink shirt to school, David Shepherd and Travis Price got together with friends and they all wore pink shirts to school. Inspired by the student’s bravery, organizers of the International Day of Pink aim to promote diversity and raise awareness about all forms of bullying by holding a similar event the second Wednesday of every April.

For Zac Johnstone, a Grade 12 student at Colonel By Secondary School in Ottawa, the day is more than just about wearing a pink shirt. The openly gay student said it shines a light on an issue that students used to never talk about.

“It gets people talking about bullying. It gets people to think about it, to actually pause and say, ‘ok, what’s happening in my school? What can I do to help them?’” he said.

Johnstone, 17, was motivated to address bullying at his school after Jeremy Dias visited Colonel By last year to talk to students about his experience with bullying. Dias is the founder of Jer’s Vision, an organization that promotes diversity and acceptance.

Johnstone says he was bullied by a few students for being gay, but it didn’t phase him, largely because his school has a great support system.

Now he organizes workshops on promoting acceptance as leader of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. He is also the youth director on the Jer’s Vision board of directors.

“I personally believe we have the most accepting school in the city,” he said. “We also have a very active Gay-Straight Alliance that provides a safe space for youth in the school. We have the support of teachers, we have rainbow stickers all over the place.”

That support has translated into less bullying at his school this year compared to last year, he said.

Bullying doesn’t go away overnight, unfortunately, and Johnstone said there is more work ahead of him. Wednesday he will give a talk during a school assembly about the importance of the Day of Pink and why fighting discrimination is so important.

“It’s ongoing the work that we do,” said Dias. ”Bullying is a really complex social problem and I think where we’re going to go next is continuing to address it to make a difference, getting more and more people on board.”