As a motorcycle cop earlier in his career, Superintendent Scott Baptist responded to a call for a dead body found under a bridge at the south end of 11 Division.
The investigation later revealed that the deceased was a gay man who had been beaten to death because of his sexuality.
“I have never forgotten that incident,” recalled Baptist, the 13 Division unit commander, at this year’s International Day of Pink celebration at Oakwood Collegiate Institute on April 9. “This is the type of violence that makes no sense and it’s something that we need to be an active part of fixing. That’s why we are here today.”
Observed on the second Wednesday of April, the celebration seeks to support the work of students, educators, communities and businesses in their efforts to stop bullying, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia.
“This is one of those days that bring the community together for a really common cause,” Baptist added. “We have to stop bullying, homophobic violence and discrimination of any sort. It has to stop. As we come into a new era of policing, I think it’s really important that we embrace every aspect of our communities and we work together to make Toronto a safe and liveable place. Our mission is to keep our neighbourhoods safe. That’s what we do and this is one way to do it.”
International Day of Pink started after a Nova Scotia teenager was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. His fellow students rallied behind him by wearing pink to show their solidarity against LBGT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender)-based discrimination.
“Bullying is a problem in schools and we are here to say that’s not cool and it must stop,” said Grade 12 student Christopher Hartley, a member of Oakwood’s Gay Straight Association.
Chief Bill Blair praised Oakwood Collegiate for partnership with the Service to celebrate the day.
“You are a prime example to the whole community of what can happen when we stand together,” Blair told the student body, gathered in the school gym. “The future of our city, the future of our schools and the safety of our citizens is all dependent on you. If you are willing to stand up for yourselves and for each other, as you are doing today with your pink shirt, you send a message to those who are victimized that we will not be idle bystanders…The future of our city is assured by the confidence that your bring to all of us.”
The school presented a cake to Blair who was celebrating his birthday.
School principal Ellen Austrom welcomed Toronto Police members to Oakwood to join with students and staff in making a bold statement that bullying should not be tolerated.
“Whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or queer should not set you apart for ridicule, exclusion, derision or cyber-bullying,” she said. “All students have a right to be equal partners in our community. Love and a sense of belonging are fundamental to the human experience. This includes the love of your parent, siblings, extended family, classmates, friends and your life mate. Today, we stand together to make a statement that everyone has an equal right to love and be loved.”
Toronto District School Board director Donna Quan thanked Oakwood students for the pride, passion and dedication they have demonstrated in striving to make their school inclusive, safe and accepting.
“I believe that your actions and your voice matters when it comes to making us a better society,” she pointed out. “You play a key role in this and I am so proud of every student in this room. We are here today to create a culture of kindness in every classroom across all 588 schools. We are here to focus on respect, team work and perseverance. We are here to make it better for all students.”
Superintendent of Education Rauda Dickinson joined trustee Maria Rodrigues at the annual celebration.
“When I was a student, bullying existed, but we simply endured it or ignored it,” said Dickinson. “We have come a long way as a society to understand how truly damaging bullying is to both the victim and the bully. I will never understand why it’s cool to pick on and harass another human being. It’s not cool and it’s not necessary. There has to be better ways to deal with anger, frustration and despair and the TDSB has been very proactive in helping us find ways to manage complex behaviours.”
After seeing the San Francisco Police Department’s video, It Gets Better, which raised the bar for police organizations demonstrating their support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) members, the Service’s LBGT Internal Support Network partnered with Martin Blake of Video Services to create a TPS anti-bullying video, Together We Can Make It Better: Stop. Bullying. Now.
Through direct-to-camera testimonials, the video examines members’ personal experiences with bullying and victimization, the root causes and the role of social media in bullying, coping and alleviation strategies for victims as well as the myriad school, community and police resources available.
Constables Gail Steed and Danielle Bottineau and court officer Josh Wilson co-produced the video which was shown to the Oakwood students.