Gay Olympian spreads anti-bullying message

An openly gay New Zealand Olympian is getting behind an anti-bullying campaign this month in the hope students might avoid being targeted like he was.

Speed skater Blake Skjellerup is leading a letter writing campaign to coincide with national anti-bullying day, Pink Shirt Day, on April 14.

At least 1000 high school students will be writing letters to Prime Minster John Key to let him know homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools was out of control, said 25-year-old Skjellerup, who competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"When I was in high school I was bullied for being gay.

"It left me feeling isolated and depressed. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I was lucky I had my sport to focus on, a lot of gay young people don't have that."

He urged young people to share with Mr Key their own stories of bullying and how it had affected their wellbeing and education.

The campaign would urge the Prime Minister to look "more closely at the disproportionate amount of bullying that targets queer youth".

Students were taking their own lives as a result of bullying, Skjellerup said.

Students could confidentially take part in the letter writing campaign at www.pinkshirtday.org.nz. It was supported by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand and youth support groups nationwide.

Two Canadian high school students created Pink Shirt Day in 2009 to highlight the problem of bullying in schools.

Earlier this week, Mr Key said schools would be reminded in writing of their responsibility to provide a safe environment after two teenagers were taken to hospital following schoolyard attacks.

- NZPA

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