NEWS: Lockview students hear about Jermey Dias' struggle against homophobia

Check out this article from The Laker.

Lockview students hear about Jeremy Dias’ struggle against homophobia
by Pat Healy

FALL RIVER: Jeremy Dias had a message for Grade 10 students at Lockview High School.
The Fall River school was the ninth one he visited in the Halifax area promoting Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative. The national organization is designed to support and encourage the work of youth to address discrimination in their schools and communities.
The message Dias delivered to those packed into the Cafetorium on Sept. 15 centered on the fact they have the power to eliminate bullying and racism, and treat everyone at the school with equality, whether they’re gay, lesbian, or straight.
The Pakistan native told students of the bullying and teasing he had to deal with at a Northern Ontario School. He and his family had just moved from Edmonton, Alta.
“A big guy came up to me and said ‘There’s an N-word in our school,’” Dias said as the Lockview students hushed.
He’s able to joke about it now.
“I’m not an N-word,” he said enthusiastically. “I’m a Paki.”
Dias gained media notoriety when he was 17-years-old. It was his prom year, but the school wouldn’t allow him to bring his boyfriend. So he started a legal case against the school and school board. Four years later, he was awarded Canada’s largest human rights settlement. The money he received was used to fund Jer’s Vision and the Jeremy Dias Scholarship.
He recalled one of the more horrible experiences he faced at his new school. He and his classmates were going to read the recently released Harry Potter book. As he reached into his desk, it was wet.
“A student sitting behind me lit a match and threw it at my desk,” said Dias. “It exploded in my face.”
To add insult to injury, the teacher of the class had yet to be present in the room. Dias informed her of what happened and he was taken aback at her course of action.
“She went over to the windows and opened them to let the smoke billow out,” he said as the students looked on in disbelief. “The principal told me these things happen and to suck it up.”
That night, Dias thought of a way he could fit in at the school. He would try out for every sports team his school had. After getting rejected by each sports team, he joined the school’s student council and they accepted him. 
“By the second semester at school, I had a lot of friends,” Dias said. 
After drama practice one day, he came out to his friends that he was gay. One friend ran off after he spoke. Later that day during announcements, she told everyone that Dias was gay. 
“I got my books and went home at lunchtime,” he recalls of that devastating moment.
To his surprise, the students at Lockview High broke out in applause when he told them of his coming out of the closet.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, Dias was picked on, beat up, and sent to the hospital twice, all unbeknownst to his mother.
In Grade 11, his mother finally found out by discovering Dias and his boyfriend holding hands in his room as she brought in a tray of cookies. They spent hours talking that night, and his mother accepted her son’s sexuality.
Fast forward to Grade 12 where he was being picked on by a student named Mike. Dias had been paired up with Mike and a female student named Kristy. After being picked on for 10 minutes, Kristy spoke up.
“She told him to stop and he did,” said Dias. “I had been trying to tell these people stop forever and then she does it once and he listened to her. I was so amazed.”
After his presentation, the sleek black-haired Dias told The Laker the reception he received at Lockview was fantastic. Besides the presentations, he also worked with the pink day committee and did skill building workshops for Kids Help Phone, Student Council, the Gay Straight Alliance and others.
“It’s fantastic to see so many students engaged and passionate about anti-bullying and anti-discrimination.” He said. “It’s wonderful. It’s really great to see so many people caring about this issue.”
Dias said each person has their own horrible high school experience, just like he did.
“I’m just really lucky to have had friends to help me along the way,” he said. “Going through it has made me feel really empowered to share my experiences.”
Two students who were interviewed after the presentation showed their surprise at what their presenter had to go through.
“It was eye-opening to see what has actually happened,” Kyle Long said. “Being a gay teenager myself, I haven’t had to deal with anything even close to this. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come as a society.”
While there were some shocking parts, Grace Mercer said she enjoyed the presentations, mostly because Dias intertwined his bad experiences by poking fun at them.
“I thought the message was great,” she said. “You have to respect other people and who they are.”
phealey@enfieldweeklypress.com