Check out this great article from The Recorder & Times (link here)
Bullying victim made change happen
by Megan Burke
One day during school Jeremy Dias went to put the book he was reading into his desk when he realized his desk was wet.
While he was pulling his hands out, a classmate lit a match and threw it in the desk – it caught fire.
The teacher threw the fire blanket over his arms and desk and said “these things happen.” After Dias’s mother called the principal, she was told “don’t worry he’s getting a new desk.”
On another day, Dias was walking home and someone called him a “faggot.” He chose to ignore it, hoping he would go away. Instead, the boy went over to Dias and punched him so hard that he fell over. The boy’s friends held him down and kicked him.
Dias woke up two hours later in a hospital.
The following day the principal asked Dias what the fight was about and replied: “Well, it’ll make you tough, then you’ll stop complaining.”
Dias got up and left the principal’s office.
These were just two stories from Dias’ past he shared with a crowd Thursday night at an event hosted by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Brockville in the auditorium of Brockville Collegiate Institute.
Despite the horrific memories of bullying Dias holds, he spoke to the audience about not waiting for things to get better, but instead how they have to make it better for themselves.
The now 28-year-old Dias is the director and founder of Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative. A part of this job is Dias sharing his story.
Dias moved from Edmonton, Alberta to Sault Ste. Marie with his mother, father and brother just in time for him to start high school.
Being an ethnic minority, Dias immediately stood out as a target and therefore stood alone having trouble making friends, even though he put forth a valiant effort.
Eventually he joined student council, where he felt welcomed but still got the occasional racial slur such as “I didn’t realize your people could do anything other than make curry and rice.”
Finally he made his way into drama class, where he made his six only friends.
One day during drama class, when Dias was left alone with his six friends to practise, he got the courage to share his secret.
“I told my only six friends I had that I was gay and Rachel walked out of the room,” Dias said.
His “friend” Rachel walked straight to the school’s intercom she used to read the morning announcements, turned it on and told the entire school that Dias was gay.
“The next day no one talked to me. I got to French class, someone called me a faggot and the teacher did nothing,” he said.
Later in math class, Dias alone put his hand up to answer a question that no one else could. The teacher ignored him so Dias finally put his hand down when it got sore.
On a different occasion, Dias arrived to school to hear from the principal that someone had graffitied his locker and that he had to clean it off because the janitor “didn’t want to catch gay.”
Because of the cleaning, Dias missed a French test, which the teacher refused to let him rewrite, and then in another class a student had shredded his homework. The librarian “mysteriously” had no paper for him to print another assignment so he ran home in the rain to print off another copy. When he handed it in the teacher tore it in half and said: “No excuses.”
But these are just a few of the examples Dias shared. There were many more that he also didn’t share with his family – he had not told them he was gay or that he had been sent to the hospital twice from beatings.
They also didn’t know that the friend from another school who came over was his boyfriend until Dias’s mother walked in the room to see them holding hands. Shortly afterwards she called him downstairs and asked if he was gay and he replied yes.
“As a gay person you hear stories about other gay people,” Dias said. “I heard when you’re gay, your parents don’t love you.”
Because of this, Dias got prepared. He packed his favourite clothes and all the money he could find in a bag in case he’d have to leave his family.
That night, his mother went to his room at 2 a.m. while he was pretending to be asleep.
“I heard her hand on the doorknob of my room and I watched the clock tick for 10 minutes before she came in. She said I have something to tell you, I want to make a t-shirt that says: ‘Proud mom of a gay son,'” Dias recalled.
“She said I love you, that’s all that matters.”
His mother then left for bed. The next day his father wished to speak with him.
“My dad sat me in the office and said your mother tells me you’re gay. I’ll love you on one condition, you don’t get anyone pregnant,” Dias said, sharing the laugh with the audience.
“We sat at breakfast together and I was lucky, very lucky. When I went to university in Ottawa I realized how lucky I was. The gay bars are busiest at Thanksgiving and Christmas because they have nowhere to go.”
While most of his extended family accepted his homosexuality, some didn’t, including his godmother Aunt Sheila. One day Dias hopes she’ll start talking to him again.
As much as his family accepted him, the problems at school didn’t go away.
“Nobody said anything or did anything. I tried ignoring it, I tried fighting it, I tried reporting it, I tried everything.”
Then one day in Grade 12 he was put into a group with a boy who always bullied him and a girl he didn’t know named Jessica.
“All of a sudden the girl next to me told him to stop and he did. I’ve never had anyone stand up for me before. It felt so amazing to be validated by someone else,” Dias said.
Jessica and Dias became friends. She even dressed as a man for prom because Dias wasn’t allowed to bring his boyfriend. Jessica also suggested Dias sue the school.
At 17, Dias filed a legal case against his school and school board under the human rights commission for failing to provide him with a safe environment to learn. At 21, Dias won Canada’s second largest human rights settlement.
“All I asked for was an apology,” he said. “Some of the teachers were encouraged to retire early, including the principal and a director.”
The money he received was put into founding Jer’s Vision, the International Day of Pink and the Jeremy Dias Scholarship. It also funds educational programming through Jer’s Vision which will be coming to Brockville soon.
“We’re doing more anti-homophobia workshops as well as sexual consent workshops and sexual harassment workshops,” explained Shannon Mulligan, manager of educational programming at Jer’s Vision.
Eventually they hope to work with Catholic high schools to try to amalgamate their mandates: Catholic schools’ mandate for respect and the Jer’s Vision mandate of anti-bullying.
They also plan to return to Thousand Islands Secondary School next semester for Dias to present before the group breaks into discussion. This presentation was given to students at TISS Thursday afternoon as well.
“It was refreshing to hear some of the students’ views. They seemed like an enlightened bunch,” Mulligan said.
“He delivers hope,” said Lori Taylor, PFLAG Canada Brockville chapter leader. “It exceeded my expectations, the fact that he can deliver a powerful message and give it humour made it even more powerful.”
Through his life experiences, Dias learned and explains that, unfortunately, it is up to the victims to make life better – they have to not ask for help, but demand it.
“I don’t ever want to tell a kid that it’ll get better,”
he said. “You have to make it better.”