“I was hospitalized twice. I hated my life. Every day something would happen,” Dias told about 50 students from across Nova Scotia who attended the Dare To Stand Out Maritimes: Sydney conference on Saturday at Riverview High School.
“For these people, it’s one joke but for me it was every day of my life,” he said. “I tried everything. I tried talking to teachers, I tried walking away, nothing ever worked.”
Even the teachers ignored his plight until one day, another student — who he didn’t even know — finally told one of the bullies to stop.
“And it worked. I later asked her why she did what she did and she said it was because you seem like a nice guy.”
It made a huge difference in Dias’ life. His new friend suggested he sue the school and school board and he did. Eventually winning his lawsuit, he used the money to establish Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative.
Today, Jer’s Vision holds about 20 conferences across Canada to help students gain the skills they need to stand up to bullies and homophobic people.
“People ask me all the time why do I do what I do — I do it for you guys,” said Dias.
“I’m even a little jealous since I never had this opportunity (to attend events like this) when I was a student. I’m learning from this too.”
Dias wants students to learn how to deal with people who may not understand nor even want to understand someone who may be different.
“The truth is, you get to feel better about yourself. You don’t need to save the world. If you save one person, you’ve won, even if it’s the person who’s smiling back at you in the mirror and anything you do on top of that is great.”
Serena Matheson, a teacher at Riverview and an adviser to the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said the purpose of Saturday’s event was to help students to make a difference in their schools.
“This allows students to get together, learn and bring equity to their schools,” said Matheson.
“I want them to leave with excitement and energy and go back into their schools and create change. A lot of students fear going to school because they don’t have those connections in their communities so we want to make sure they have allies or people they can go to who they know are safe and who are working towards making their school community safer.”
The Riverview High conference covered a variety of areas including queer history, how to involve their GSAs with their school communities, how to grow as a person, the power of language, taking action in their community and a school board workshop. It’s a day of information that Dias wants more people to have so they can, in turn, pass on to others.
“Help yourself — 90 per cent of bullying goes unreported,” he told the students.
“If you intervene, 50 per cent of the time, it will stop. You become stronger. If you make one friend, you’re 18 per cent more resilient. I’m not here long – I love Cape Breton but I don’t live here – it’s up to you to make it better.”