Nearly 50 educators gathered Thursday for an anti-bullying summit, aimed at protecting vulnerable students and making schools a safe place where all young people can learn.
Growing up in Delaware County, Dwayne Steward described his school years as lonely.
"There wasn't room for anyone who was different, and I was very different. I was black, I was gay, I was slightly feminine," Steward said.
He said he remembers his classmates using hateful words toward him.
"It can make you feel like you're worthless. It can make you feel like you don't belong and there's no place for you," he said.
Finding urine soaked gym clothes in the bottom of his locker was a low point Steward described.
"A bunch of kids had peed on my clothes and left them in my locker as a joke. When I was standing there, kind of taking all this in, there was a bunch of guys in the locker room and they were all laughing,” he said. “I started tearing up a little bit, and the guy pointed at me and said 'Look at the faggot cry.' That moment always stuck with me, just throughout my life."
He shared his story Thursday with dozens of local educators at an anti-bullying summit sponsored by Stonewall Columbus, a group that provides LGBT community programming in Central Ohio.
Teachers and principals also heard from an expert with the national suicide prevention group The Trevor Project.
"We talk about suicide prevention and how to really work with our youth to create a safe space where kids can authentically be themselves and yet be safe, secure and nurtured," said Jay Poroda, president of Stonewall Columbus.
Having an ally in the schools, Steward said, can make all the difference.
"You're getting messages from every point in your life that says you're not okay, and there's one teacher who says it's going to be okay. You're worth something, and that makes all the difference in the world," Steward said.
This training kicked off a new anti-bullying initiative by Stonewall Columbus, which plans to create a mini-grant program for teachers and schools to create safe spaces for young people.
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