Monday, March 16, 2009

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. - Dr. Suess

These words offer little solace when you're a teen who feels alone, ostracized, and different. In high school everyone matters because everyone has the power to make your life hell.

And hell is what it appears to have been for 14 year old David Fortin from Alma Québec who disappeared from his home on February 10th.

Among the teen runaway stories that one reads about, David Fortin's story in particular has touched me because it seems that no matter how many times this happens, (in Québec it happens at an alarming rate), parents, teachers and the government don’t take school bullying seriously. There’s lots of lip service given to the subject but what they don’t seem to get is that you may be able to police the school hallways, but you can’t police the minds of these aggressors. (Missing teen was bullied, parents say)

We all live in a society that values human rights, and we are fortunate in Canada to have these rights extended to all people, but legislative enlightenment doesn’t illuminate every nook and cranny of society. There are still too many instances of racism, sexism and homophobia in this country in spite of our proclamations of being a just and liberal society.

It appears evident that David Fortin was bullied at school. He had a slight speech impediment, he liked “crafts and light music” says his father who also adds that he doesn’t think that David is homosexual. That David didn’t confide to his parents about what he had to endure in school is unfortunately an all too common occurrence by bullied teens - “victim shame”. And it’s an important weapon in the arsenal of bullies and other assailants.

I was thinking about my own high school experience and at first thought that I had escaped it fairly unscathed. However, upon more reflection, it seems I had blocked out my first year, grade 10. I couldn’t tell you who my homeroom teacher was, what classes I had or who was in my class. I could have remained an anonymous peon among the over 2000 student body and coasted relatively unscathed through the year, but I had the unfortunate occasional of running afoul of my gym teacher (insert your story here).

I never experienced physical bullying at school, was never pushed into the lockers or called FAG in the corridors. But I had been snickered at as the guys related what the gym teacher had said about me during gym class. You see, I had refused the coach’s (think Don Rickles as an SS officer) invitation to join the football team. Now it wasn’t that I disliked sports, I just disliked “contact” sports. I know so cliché. And this particular coach frankly intimidated me. His reputation had reached me even in grade school. So as I become more creative in finding ways to skip gym, he took the opportunity to comment on my absences in more and more disparaging ways.

I brushed it off at school. I never told anyone how I was feeling. I did think about suicide - a lot. Luckily, the school year was over before I was. Over the following summer, I embarked upon a personal “makeover” that got me through to graduation. I was lucky. I didn’t look gay. I had an athletic build. I had a lot of the same interests as other guys. I could “pass”. This, as I was about to experience in my adult life, was a blessing and a curse.

I hope with all my heart that David is found safe. I can’t imagine the amount of pain he must have endured that would have him think that running away without any resources would be preferable to seeking help at home.

Two-thirds of LGBTQ students feel unsafe: report

More than two-thirds of Canadian high school students who identify themselves as homosexual, bisexual or transgendered said they felt unsafe at school, according to survey results published Monday.(May 12, 2008)

About 1,200 students participated in the nationwide survey on homophobia and transphobia conducted by the gay-rights lobby group Egale Canada.

Forty-one per cent of LGBTQ participants reported sexual harassment, compared to 19 per cent of straight students.

More than one-third of LGBTQ respondents have skipped school because they felt unsafe at the building or on their way there, compared to one-eighth of straight participants.

Almost half of LGBTQ participants reported having had mean rumours spread about them at school.

Close to a third of LGBTQ respondents said the rumours were spread about them on the internet or through text messages.

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