In 2011, I was introduced to an amazing young man named Jamie Hubley after reading a headline about his death, "Ottawa teen takes his own life because of severe bullying."
Jamie was relentlessly bullied for being a figure skater and, later in life, for being openly gay. Jamie and I have lots in common, including the fact that I too am gay. I read how Jamie was bullied for many years and yet he never fought back. When I was done reading, I was frozen in my bed.
It was at that time that I decided that I was not going to be a person who read headlines and hoped the world would become a better place around me. I was going to do something about it.
I created my own project called 'Bullying Ends Here'. I decided to open up about my challenges growing up in a broken home and also being bullied all through school. I decided that I would speak with youth and speak from the heart. I would share my own bullying story along with Jamie's. No visual aids or handouts, just talking.
When I put this initiative together in October 2012, I did it on my own time and at my own expense. I wanted to reach out to youth to let them know that if they wanted to talk, share their story or make a new friend, I would be there for them.
What I didn't know was how big this initiative would become.
Through word of mouth, I began speaking every day and the requests began piling up. It was in November 2012 that my employer proposed that I take a few months to work on my project full-time and speak to youth from December to March. I was quickly inundated with more requests.
My employer then gave me the opportunity for me to continue touring around the country -- at their expense -- to see what kind of demand there would be for my bullying talks. I was given an extension until the end of June 2013, but this too filled up within days. Requests have come in from every province and United States as well.
As of April 2013, I am proud to share that I have spoken in 4 provinces to over 25,000 youth so far. As I stated above, I reach out to all youth to let them know that, if they feel they don't have anyone to talk to, that they do have me. I have received over 3,500 emails to date and of those emails, 9 were from people who confided how my presentation saved their life.
I must admit that sharing my personal life, holding nothing back, has it's challenges personally. For an adult to speak about feelings and emotions in front of strangers, let alone 25,000 of them is not the easiest thing to do. Because of the emails I receive daily, they inspire me to do much more.
I've had the privilege recently to go to Ottawa and meet with Jamie's parents, Wendy and Allan, in person. They both welcomed me into their home to share stories, laughs and tears. I have a connection with them that cannot be put into words. Allan and Wendy work tirelessly to educate others on mental health issues along with suicide prevention.
This is when I became aware of CTV news anchor Kevin Newman and his work on promoting acceptance, tolerance and understanding towards gay youth. Kevin went public with his own story of having a gay son. I am proud of Kevin because it's hard taking such a large step moving from maintaining a private life to making it very public.
Rick Mercer is an openly gay male TV personality who I consider my friend. It was one of his rants pushed me to make the choice to "tell the world" about my sexuality. Although I was not afraid to go public, it was a big step that I had not thought about doing previously. I figured that if Rick could do it, so could I.
Although I have toured the country these last few months and currently have hundreds of requests for the next school year in every province, my employer has decided not to provide further funding on the national level for my bullying lectures. However, I am fortunate enough that my employer does see a benefit on the provincial level and has decided to fund my work for another school year.
The last time I wrote a blog, there were a few comments that were not that supportive. Without addressing them individually, I just want to say that I understand I cannot change the world as a whole.
What I can do is help change the world from the perspective of individuals. I can try to help today's youth to be better. I can be there to listen, guide and support them. I can be another resource available to them that isn't a website. What I am trying to say is that at least I am trying to help make this world a better place. As I said earlier, I am not going to sit and wait for the world to solve itself, I am going to do something myself.
Perhaps any negativity you share with me is because you don't think this will work, because I am gay or because I am a police officer trying to do something positive. My sexuality has nothing to do with my presentation. I just share that so the youth know that I am unique in my own way... just like you.
I speak about sexuality for all of 30 seconds during my hour-long presentations. Come and see for yourself, I welcome any and all to each one! My schedule is listed here.
I am very excited to say that my "little" initiative has reached so many youth and that I am able to do my part to help others. I will continue to educate myself to become even better at what I do and continue to reach tens of thousands of youth in the coming months. I will tell the world about Jamie and also share my story in hopes of inspiring youth to make individual positive change.
Bullying Ends Here
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868