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For the students in Woodstock, Ontario

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Normally I don’t use this blog as an outlet for social activism. In fact, I don’t encourage any of the staff who write on this blog to touch on subjects that may be sensitive, as we’re a PR firm, and I want us to remain neutral. Through the years of witnessing scandals like Ghomeshi and Ford, I’ve tried to maintain a relatively neutral stance, because I don’t think it’s our place to draw or state opinion. Today that changes.

Waking up this morning and seeing my hometown of Woodstock, Ontario on the news has me distressed. For those that don’t know, five teens have committed suicide this year in the city, and it has resulted in students of all five Woodstock high schools standing up in protest. Growing up in the small town of Woodstock myself as a gay teen, I had many challenges. The first being that my family was well known within the community: my grandfather was once the mayor and my own father owns a prominent business on Dundas Street, the main vein of the community. Beyond that, I also had a little brother who I knew would come up through the school system after me, meaning I wanted to be careful where I stepped so his life wouldn’t be a nightmare. You see, being gay in Woodstock was like being on the bad side of Donald Trump.

Despite my efforts to keep a low profile, my “secret” certainly wouldn’t be ignored. From my gym teacher calling me a “faggot” to my guidance counsellor referring to me as “she” (after years of knowing me), I faced adversity in my school. Outside of the school, regular practises involved throwing gasoline at myself and my friends, along with cigarette butts, deemed good enough for the “faggot” skin.

You can imagine my dismay when even after graduating, which I did in a hurry using credits I’d earned outside the school with singing lessons (instead of sticking OAC out), I heard my straight brother was subject to the same ridicule and torment.

Woodstock has had a problem since 1999. That’s 17 years of teens going through the system with torment. I’m writing today to share my story and let Woodstock youth know that things can get better. I also know if I didn’t have such a supportive and wonderful family that helped me through these tough times, I’m not sure I would’ve made it either.

It’s time for change.

Cory Stewart

If you, or someone you know is having a tough time growing up in Woodstock and wants help, please email – I’ll do what I can to get you the help you need.

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