Skip to content

'There will be a space for you': Speakers talk about effects of bullying

Fashion designer Scott Wabano and Canada’s Drag Race's Chelazon Leroux talked to Timmins high school students on Pink Shirt Day
Scott Wabano and Chelazon Leroux shared their experiences with Timmins high school students from the Muskegowuk offices on Pink Shirt Day.

Despite the weather, high school students across the city got a unique view of the effect of bullying.

Mushkegowuk Six Seasons Youth program and Timmins High and Vocational School teamed up to host a Pink Shirt Day event on Feb. 28 with fashion designer Scott Wabano and Canada’s Drag Race season 3 contestant Chelazon Leroux.

Both speakers are Indigenous and two-spirit, and they shared their stories of dealing with bullying both at school and at home as youth.

“I hope they get a little more compassion, a little more empathy, a little more understanding,” said Wabano, who uses the pronouns they/them. “It’s important to remember that we all have a role within our community, within our schools, within our families, within our circle of friends to call out bullying, to call out harmful behaviours.”

Pink Shirt Day is an anti-bullying campaign that started in 2007 when two boys, David Shepherd and Travis Price, handed out pink T-shirts to all the boys in their school as a show of support for a Grade 9 student who was being bullied for wearing pink. 

“Just knowing that if you feel you don’t belong somewhere right now, in the future, there will be a space for you,” said Leroux. “There will be a time when you will be accepted and loved and find the right places for you.”

Jamie Davey, the Six Seasons Youth Program’s cultural co-ordinator, said the event was a fortunate bit of timing,

“Every year, Pink Shirt Day comes around, and we want that message of resilience for the youth,” she said. “Coming from Six Seasons, we wanted to provide a learning opportunity for the youth in Timmins to learn about Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ stories, Indigenous stories, and listening and relating to the stories.”

Wabano, who grew up in Moose Factory, hopes youth will take a positive approach to everything in their lives.

“Leading with love is just really having an open mind, an open heart. It’s ensuring everybody is being heard, being represented, being valued, being honoured,” they said. “It’s really important that’s the impact you’re leaving wherever you go.”

This kind of experience was something that Wabano said they wouldn’t have stepped up to do as a youth.

“Bullying really did affect me back then and I think anywhere there was kind of a target on my back, whether that be being the only Indigenous kid in the class or being the urban city kid within the Indigenous class, I just wanted to blend in,” said Wabano. “I was already struggling with my identity and being in the closet. I didn’t also want that to be a target for me. I wouldn’t have pictured myself doing what I’m doing now.”

Leroux said that having that vision is an important part of the journey.

“There was a period of time when I was growing up when this wouldn’t have been a possibility,” she said. “I would see the disapproval that I was too loud, or too feminine, or too weird. I’ve always wondered how things would have been, that if children are coming here already knowing who they are, and nurturing that instead of trying to change it, how different my life trajectory would have been.”

Leroux and Wabano are in Cochrane today (Feb. 29) for an Indigenous fashion celebration.

Having that space is an important step to take, said Leroux, who is also working on the Resurrection event in Toronto.

“The concept is to revive and resurrect the spaces that were there pre-colonization, the spaces of celebration and acknowledgment and community, in the land of Toronto where there hasn’t been queer Native spaces in a long time,” she said.

Both speakers told the livestream audience that reaching out if they are experiencing bullying or dark times is an important step and that support can be found.

“Whether you are Indigenous or not, love is the answer to a lot of the questions we have,” said Wabano. “For one bully, there are 100 more people who love you, there are 100 more people that will support you, there are 100 more people who want to see you thrive, want to see you succeed, and want to be there for you.”