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by Noreen Fagan 

A flash mob, a tour of Parliament, and a gala, marked this year’s anniversary of Day of Pink, the international day against bullying, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia in schools and communities.

In celebration of the Day of Pink, Jer’s Vision hosted the eighth annual gala at the Government Conference Centre where guests – clad in an array of pink attire – showed their support to the campaign.

This year’s honoured guests were; Michaëll Jean, the former governor general of Canada; Mark Tewksbury, former Olympic medalist and Jian Ghomeshi, CBC radio host.

“I feel this is the major human rights cause of our time. I feel that for my generation this is our civil rights battle, LGBT rights that is. I think we are going to look back on this in 30 years from now and be astounded at how undemocratic and oppressive conditions and laws were for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities,” said Ghomeshi at the opening reception.

As the welcoming cocktail hour drew to a close, guests were ushered into the conference hall to take their seats for the remainder of the evening. For the next couple of hours, guests were treated to performances from students at Carleton University, bullying monologues read by local and federal politicians, and speeches from the three honourees.

Tewksbury took to the stage in a light-hearted, but genuinely heartfelt story, about realizing he was gay, being bullied as a teenager and the effort it took to come out as a gay athlete.

“I remember trying to hide this part of myself and of course you can’t hide who you are and be an authentic, genuine person in society… I was in Grade Eight when I went to school and had this sick feeling when I saw my locker had been broken into, and this word was written on my binder – fag.”

Tewksbury went on to say it was only when he came out as a gay athlete, that he was able to fully embrace the word.

“I knew if I had any chance to win the Olympics then I could no longer have this energy fighting itself inside me. I had to share my secret,” he said adding that after he came out to his coach, the burden of hiding in the closet was gone.

“I remember sitting the last 30 minutes before my race. There were four walls and eight chairs and I sat there with my seven competitors from around the world. I remember looking at all these guys, the best athletes from France, the United States, Spain and Cuba. We all trained six hours a day, we all wanted to win this race, and this thing that had been my liability of being gay for so long, in that moment, changed. I looked at all of these guys and I thought to myself, “what makes me different?” – and I thought I’m the fag.”

The rest is history, Tewksbury went out to win Canada’s first Olympic Gold medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics. While the former governor general is no Olympian, Jean is a much-admired woman and her speech reflected her thoughtfulness and attentiveness to the world around her.

Jean spoke of getting to know Jeremy Dias, founder and executive director of Jer’s Vision through her daughter.

“She was telling me about this awesome campaign,” she said, adding that after hearing Dias speak at her school, her daughter was determined to try and make a difference through the anti bullying campaign. “Here was my daughter sharing with me the same lesson that I learned as a young girl in Haiti, that indifference is not an option.”

Jean went on to say that the first time she met Dias was at an official event, where he ended up crying on her shoulder.

“And I thought he is special. What I saw in Jer is his transformative power in his work and I have seen his impact,” she said.

Jean’s remarks reflected back to an earlier part of the evening where Dias was awarded the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal by MPP for Ottawa Centre and Minister of Labour, Yasir Naqvi.

“He is absolutely motivated to end discrimination and to end bullying,” said Naqvi. “He continues to bring people together starting from one small town and now across our great nation, and that is the mark of a great leader.

And with that, Dias became one of the 60,000 Canadians to receive the medal, although it is doubtful that anyone else was presented with the honour  by a Minister dressed in a pink shirt on the Day of Pink.