Former bullied student urges Hanover School Division to change LGBT policies

​A woman who was the target of bullying over her sexuality is urging Hanover School Division trustees to change their diversity policies.

Jennifer Schroeder was victim of homophobic bullying, writes open letter to trustees

Jennifer Schroeder says she was bullied as a middle school student in Hanover School Division. Now, she's a mom living in Winnipeg, and she's calling on the division to change their diversity policies. (Courtesy Jennifer Schroeder)

A woman who was the target of bullying over her sexuality is urging Hanover School Division trustees to change their diversity policies.

Jennifer Schroeder recently posted an open letter to trustees online, asking them to change policies that stop teachers from speaking about same-sex families in the classroom and forcing educators to tell students' parents if they find out a student is gay.

Schroeder, who is now a mom living in Winnipeg, went to school in the division — first in Grunthal and later in Steinbach.

"Growing up in that community, in that mindset, we weren't raised to be accepted or loving of the LGBT community," said Schroeder. "In Steinbach and southeastern Manitoba, that's kind of the mindset that's prevalent. People are just not accepting and they choose to be hateful and judgmental so it was really horrible to be treated that way."

Schroeder said as a student in the division, she was bullied for years and became suicidal.

"When I started middle school I was bullied for a few different reasons. One, notably, I was bullied because they called me a lesbian for whatever reason," she said.

Schroeder said she doesn't identify as gay, but the experience opened her eyes to the bullying LGBT kids and youth face in the community.

Her letter, which was posted on Facebook and e-mailed to the division, comes after a contentious school trustees meeting, in which some trustees compared LGBT education to the residential school system and rising cancer rates.

"This is said by people who are in charge of our school division, so it's very concerning that those people at that level of authority would be making those kinds of comments," said Schroeder. "It's very dangerous and detrimental to the LGBT community and the kids — the youth."

Her letter explains she "used to believe the same things [trustees] are saying now," but because of her experience in the division's schools, she's since become an ally and activist for the community.

"My idea to write that letter was to write it out of love — just a plea for the school division to hear the story of someone who has experienced [bullying]," she said. "They're using their own personal biases and prejudices to form the policy that they have and it's not about them. It's not about how they feel, it's not about what they want. It's about protecting our students and protecting the lives of kids who are marginalized and discriminated against."

So far, Schroeder said she hasn't heard a response from the division.

"I hope that Hanover decides to do the right thing and change their policies," she said. "The school needs to be the safe space."

Officials with the school division said they received the letter via email on Wednesday, and it would be forwarded to the trustees. Officials would not say if they would respond or comment on the letter.

Read Jennifer Schroeder's open letter to the Hanover School Division:

Dear Hanover School Division Trustees,

I am writing you as a former student of HSD from kindergarten until graduation. I am writing you as a person who used to believe the same things you are saying now. I am writing you as a former bullied child. I am writing you as a child to wanted to commit suicide many times. I am writing you as an advocate for change. I am writing you as a supporter of love. Please, open your hearts and hear my words.

Growing up I was taught by my family, my community and my school that homosexuality was wrong. Not only that it was wrong but that it was disgusting. It was something that deserved to condemned. I was not raised to have an open, loving heart to the lgbtq community. When I started middle school I was teased and bullied relentlessly. For many reasons, because I was poor and couldn't afford the finer clothing and luxuries others could, because they told me I was fat and ugly but most notably, because they called me a lesbian. Now because of the way I was raised, my association with that was toxic. Being called a lesbian was, at that time in my life, one of the worst things someone could call me. For three years it was constant. It was horrible. I had few friends. I wanted to die. I brought my concerns up with my teachers and adults in my life who were supposed to protect me, only to be told to suck it up. In the end, I made the decision to switch schools, to one where nobody knew who I was. I am not gay or trans or bi or any of those things, but what if I was? What if during those three horrific years of my life, people were ridiculing who I was as a person? I would have most certainly ended my life. This is the environment you are creating in your schools. Kids are using self harm, drugs, alcohol and other dangerous behaviours to numb the pain they feel on a regular basis. You are cultivating hate and bigotry. This is not about you. This is about protecting the innocent and vulnerable lives of our youth. This is about teaching our youngest generation to love and accept everyone. We need that change more than ever. With the news of the horrific homophobic ignited shooting in Orlando, there is no better time than right now. Please, consider what I am saying. Please don't let this opportunity to be on the right side of history pass you by.


Jennifer Schroeder

with files from CBC's Ismaila Alfa