Jeremy Dias

is the founder of the Jeremy Dias Scholarship, the International Day of Pink, and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, all of which aim to combat bullying and gender discrimination.

The Truth is Liberating


Jeremy Dias recalls the first time he acknowledged the truth about his identity to himself and the liberation that being honest brought.

Jeremy Dias: I went on a trip to Ottawa called Encounters With Canada through Historica Canada, and I met other people, you know, other people who were gay and other people from all over the country. It was this huge moment for me because I was able to like, connect to people in a very meaningful and powerful way. And then, I visited some of them in Southampton over spring break and it was this amazing experience because this guy hit on me in front of people. And they asked me, "Why don't you date this guy?" And I looked at them and I'm like, "Cause I'm gay." They're like, "We know you're gay, but why don't you date him?" For me, it was the first time I had said it. And I had acknowledged it to myself. And I was like, recentered around this identity. Then I went back to school, and I was like, I was gay. I bought everything at Claire's that had a rainbow on it. I really just wanted everyone to know that I was gay because I had spent the last 13 and 14 years being something I wasn't. I wanted it to be in their face and there physically. And... Yeah, I mean, then I came out, I came out in stages to my parents and I came out in stages to my family and... and it was tough, for sure, for sure, for sure. But like... it was also very liberating to just be honest and open about my truth. And... You know, and it really opened up this sort of like... door. Because I think... I mean, I don't know if people realize it, but being gay isn't just like, you fall in love with other dudes and that's it. It's like, there's this culture, this community, this history and this... You know, then there's other gay brown people, who talk about the erasure of people of colour in the community. And then we talk about queer and trans people of colour, and the difficulties we're still facing around racism in the community. You know, it's interesting because I get to be part of those conversations and dialogues and I find it really powerful to be able to connect those pieces.

Aftermath of the Announcement

2 min 53 s

Jeremy Dias talks about the bullying he experienced in school after a friend told everyone about his...

Jeremy Dias: When my friend ran over to the intercom and told everyone I was gay, it was just like... I couldn't believe it, like, I was in total shock here. And I just... I was just really taken aback. You know, and I didn't know how to handle it or what to do. And so... I went home for lunch. I didn't come back to school till the next day. And like, everyone was talking about it. and it was almost like there was a splash in the pond and it just kept on rippling. And the ripples weren't always gigantic. It was like side stares and comments. You know... What's interesting was like, the lack of literacy of what it meant. You know? I remember sitting at, like, the table that me and my friends would sit at lunch. And the captain of the football team was sitting across from me, and he was like, "So you're gay, right?" And I'm like, "Yeah." He's like, "Don't hit on me." I'm like, "I'm not going to. You're eating four hamburgers, you squished into one," like, not my type. And it was interesting because behind that comment is this idea that gay men are gonna hit on you just because you exist. It's like... Nope. You know? And behind that comment is this, you know, idea that I'm gonna predator him even though he's like twice my size, you know? My favorite question that day was, "Well, how did you become gay?" You know? And I'm like... "Wow! How do you not know this?" You know? Like, it's just... you are or you're not. And... I think the other challenge for me was like I'm 14, and I don't even know, you know what I mean? Just because I came out as gay doesn't mean I understand anything about it. I didn't get a handbook yet. And I really didn't know the answer. So, I'm living with these questions constantly. And it was just, yeah, it was tough. And I really wish my teachers were better equipped to handle it. I think they struggled with understanding what is being an ally and being supportive mean. You know, for some teachers it was just, "I'm going to ignore everything. I'm just going to leave it all alone and I'm not going to like... If something bad happens, I'm just going to ignore it." But for others it was like, I mean, they also struggled with homophobia, right? And I think there were some teachers who had really staunch views of LGBTQ rights and people. So they really struggled.

Compounding Effects of Bullying

2 min 7 s

Jeremy Dias talks about the ongoing bullying he experienced and how incidents that may have seemed l...

Jeremy Dias: I think it was bad for my mental health. I think bullying is bad for everyone's mental health. But I think for me it was like... It wasn't like I was wearing the wrong sneakers because we were poor. It wasn't like... It was this unchangeable thing that people felt like they had an opinion on or could be critiquing. And it was just, yeah, it was really tough because I felt like... the attacks became personal. Right? And again, for a lot of people, it's just a joke. But it's... it's not, right? It's not just a joke, it's just not funny. And for a lot of people, it was the series of jokes that just made you feel like this big and I don't think people got how tough it was. So yeah. And I don't know that I had the vocabulary, the ability to express how tough it was. So it just kept on compounding on top of it. And I mean, there were some things that happened that people should have known, like threatening me with a knife, beating me up after school, a teacher pushed me down a flight of stairs. These are things that we should all know are wrong. But like, in those moments, I think the person thinks they're just gonna pass, you know? Or they're just one tiny second. And for me it was like these ongoing things and in between the moments was this sort of paranoia, like, "What's going to happen next?" So yeah. And there's a lack of conflict resolution mechanisms, I think, in society in general. So like, for me, I didn't know what to do, right? You called the cops, the cops don't do anything. You tell the teachers, they don't do anything. You ignore it, they don't do anything. And it's just like, "OK, well, what am I supposed to do then?" You know, like... How am I supposed to prevent this from happening again or even get some sort of justice for the situations that happened already?

Suing the School Board

3 min 49 s

Jeremy Dias talks about what led him to sue the public school board and describes the ups and downs ...

Jeremy Dias: And I still do believe that visibility is like, step one in creating an equitable and inclusive space. And seeing yourself in space is critical to manifesting that safety that we want to experience. So for me, it was really, really important that we get these rainbow pride flags up, that we get this training, that we start having these dialogues and we have safer spaces for LGBTQ2S+ students or whatever. When administration said, "We'll look at it, we'll think about it", it was dragging on for so long that I knew it wasn't going to happen, and I was... I reported it to the Minister of Education at the time, Elizabeth Witmer, and she wrote a letter back saying, "We've spoken to the administration at your school board and none of these experiences of bullying are happening." So I literally got people who made fun of me to write letters and be like, "On this date at this time, I made fun of Jeremy and never got in trouble for it." So I had all of this evidence that I then used against my school board. And I sued them through the Ontario Human Rights Commission. And, you know, I won three years later. And what's interesting about the case is that it wasn't like I submitted evidence. They looked at it and I won. It was I submitted evidence. They wrote back. I wrote back. We both wrote back towards each other. And then... we didn't reach a conclusion, so we went to mediation. And in mediation, the lawyer for the school board called me a faggot, you know? I was sitting there being like, "You're a lawyer", you know, and I'm crying, and I'm like, I should have told..." My mom offered to send me a lawyer. "I should have taken them up on this. And I didn't." It's just like... [sighs] It was such a disaster. And then we go to tribunal. And the judges make this decision and it's just like, "Done." You know, and I walk away and they're getting training for the school and there's new books in the library and there's a Gay–Straight Alliance, teachers got fired and people lost their jobs and I get five grand and it's over. And you know, the definition of like, "what does justice look like?", I think was really tough for me, because the entire time we were doing this, all I wanted is an apology. Like literally all I want is for you to say sorry and leave me alone forever. And... It didn't happen. I felt really guilty about taking the money because the money is taxpayer money and it's not really school board money. And it just... Those are the programs and initiatives my school board should run. It's why I took that money to start, at the time, Jer's Vision, and then the Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity because I really wanted those equity pieces, not just for me, but for every student. What's interesting is like now, 16 years later, it's like... equity is part of the dialogue and the conversation, and you can walk into schools and you can see rainbow pride flags. For me, I mean I feel like that is my... You know, especially at my old high school. I mean, that's what I did. Those stickers are on those lockers in those classrooms because of me. And that's really cool. You know? And also, I mean, I'm part of this legacy of queer and trans human rights activists, you know? Gilbert invented the flag. You know? I got the flag in my school. I mean... Maybe not the same level of coolness, but still, I think pretty cool.

The Impact of Winning a Court Case

1 min 35 s

Jeremy Dias talks about the residual effects of winning a $5,000 settlement after suing the school b...

Jeremy Dias: The impact of it wasn't just five grand, right? I mean, that would have been, I guess, OK, but... I'm so proud that my school board did the training for my teachers and the system. I'm so proud that they have Gay–Straight Alliances now, I'm so proud that they have books in the library. You know? That was huge for me to like, see our community represented in that way. And I think, I think the systemic difference is really critical. I also think I'm really lucky that me and a handful of volunteers came together to then push this agenda even further than it could have gone. The year that I won the court case, and that we started Jer's Vision, was actually the year that equal marriage was legalized in Canada, nationally. And for me, I remember like, being at the party with Paul Martin, and you know, all of these significant ministers and prime ministers and someone asked me, "Well, wait, why are you starting a gay charity when you just won everything?" And I was like, "Because now it's about taking that legislation and taking those human rights and applying it to everybody and making sure that everyone can benefit from them, understand their rights and take advantage of these opportunities." And for me that was critical. So that was a big part of it.

The Beginning of Jer’s Vision

1 min 9 s

Jeremy Dias talks about continuing to work towards equity and justice and how he began to take his m...

Jeremy Dias: What I think is interesting for me is this notion of like, equity and social justice. And then, for me it was really critical to like, continue to evolve this conversation. So beyond the protests, we started going into classrooms and having these dialogues with students and recruiting volunteers and then eventually getting paid staff to then go into every high school. We started being really strategic and we were getting into every Grade Nine gym class because every kid has to take Grade Nine gym and that would be the greatest way of being strategic and getting everyone to hear this message and this conversation. We started doing keynote presentations, history presentations and health presentations, and we really just layered it on, over and over, so that people would get this inclusive education, so at least once in their life they hear the word "gay" and "lesbian" in a positive way. They hear "trans", "bi", "queer" and "non-binary" in positive ways so that they can go into their daily lives with this information. And that was critical. It was like, super important.

The Gay Sweater

3 min 40 s

Jeremy Dias talks about the “Gay Sweater,” a wearable art piece inspired by oft-repeated slurs of ta...

Jeremy Dias: So the gay sweater is a really cool thing because, you know, literally hundreds of queer and trans people across the country cut off their hair. And two designers, Amelia and Brenna, spun it into yarn and then wove it into a sweater. And... You know... Like I still do today, take transit everywhere. And you're on the bus and you hear these homophobic remarks about the movie or the sweater or the T-shirt being so gay and to literalize that expression was such an exciting idea for me because... what does it mean to be gay? Right? Like, what does it mean to... you know, to literalize homophobia and transphobia? So, I'm gonna backtrack. We took this sweater across the country. Right? First off, it's weird. Like, super weird. And people have a lot of feelings about hair. Right? And the culture of hair-based clothing is complicated. I mean, as a Catholic, I'm aware that there's these hair sweaters that were used to torture people. And, you know, in Nepal hair is woven in with leftover fabric to make felt and then to make shoes. You know... Like hair is this really interesting material, especially human hair. There's an entire art culture from not that long ago. It's a living practice today, where people use hair of their relatives to make... wreaths and other sort of flowers to remember those who have passed on. Some even make jewelry out of it. So it was interesting to use hair. And if we imagine that being gay is in your DNA, then it's in your hair. And you could make something that was tangibly gay. It was just this weird idea, so we brought it to schools. And as an art piece, I think people think about it in all kinds of ways. And it was interesting because in the same day, I did multiple presentations on the sweater and, you know, this one young queer trans girl tries on the sweater. And at the end of the presentation, she's like, "I'd like to cut off my hair and add it to the sweater because I want to be part of this. Like, I want to be part of this legacy, this actual piece of art that's fighting for my rights today, right now, in this moment." And that was really cool, you know? And she saw this value in this object. So, what was interesting is, in the same day we did a presentation, and this other student comes up and he wears a sweater and he's standing there and he's like, "It's itchy, it's kind of heavy. It's kind of scratchy, it's very uncomfortable." And as he was standing there and we're talking about the sweater, he interrupts and he's like, "Can I say something?" We're like, "Of course you can." And the student says, "This sweater is homophobia." And I'm like, "What do you mean?" And he's like, "Well, the first time you see it, the first time you experience it, it's itchy, it's uncomfortable. You know that there's something wrong about it, but you can't take it off. The longer you wear it, the more comfortable you get with the abuse." And I'm like, "Oh my gosh!" You know what I mean? One student sees this object as a point of liberation that she wants to be part of, and another student sees it as a literalization of the oppression that they face in their school. It was remarkable. We brought this sweater to every province and territory, and we got students to try it on and play with it.