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Standing up to bullies, in a sea of pink during Wednesday's Day of Pink

Published in the Ottawa Sun April 08, 2014

The kids most likely to get bullied -- queer and alienated youth -- may feel a little less isolated today with 10 million Canadians wearing their colour.


That's how many Canadians are expected to wear something pink today --International Day of Pink -- to show their support for the thousands of youth who are bullied everyday because they are gay, transsexual or simply misunderstood.

It's an experience Kate Peplinskie knows all too well.

As a teen growing up in North Bay, she endured years of constant teasing and bullying by kids at school for being a tomboy who preferred playing sports to shopping.

"I was not your stereotypical girly girl," says Peplinskie. "And I'm still not."

Scared, isolated, and unable to talk to her parents and friends, Peplinskie retreated into her shell, until she became increasingly confused and angry about her feelings and about herself.

"Bullying impacts the victim's mental health for the rest of their lives," she explains. "It made me harder to figure out and in the end, I internalized my anger.

It wasn't until she moved to Ottawa to attend U of O. where she met the founder of the anti-bullying Jer's Vision Jeremy Dias at a presentation that that part of her life turned around.

"His story was so similar to mine, he validated my feelings and made me feel not so alone. I had a context for my life and my parents eventually came to accept me. They're driving from North Bay to be with me at the Day of Pink," added Peplinskie, who has since become Jer's Vision's spokesperson and coordinator for tonight's gala.

Laureen Harper will present Jer's Vision awards to LGBTQ advocates Carol Todd, mother of Amanda Todd, and "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" comedian Gavin Crawford.

Among the 700 guests expected to attend are Max Keeping, the leader of the Green Party Elizabeth May and Ottawa's mayor Jim Watson.

It's one issue that police chief Charles Bordeleau has identified as one of the biggest social challenges facing that generation.

"The International Day of Pink provides each of us with an opportunity to speak out against homophobia, transphobia and all forms of bullying. We are pleased to join our colleagues in Emergency and Protective Services in providing visibility and the importance to this message and to continue year round to raise awareness through our efforts with community. Reducing and eliminating this type of behaviour is everyone's responsibility and an important part of our working together for a safer community."

The message is one that resonates for an 18-year-old former student who goes by her first name Bianca, who adds that bullying is not limited to the schoolyard.

Some of the most toxic and hurtful bullying can be found online.

"When I was bullied, I was scared to go to school. I was scared all the time because bullying follows you everywhere on social media," she says.

"The worst part are the rumours, the hate lists and pictures posted online."

"My advice to someone being bullied is to value yourself and focus on the positive. The power is in you."