People First of Ontario President Kory Earle grew up being judged, bullied and called “retard” (the R-word), which left him feeling suicidal, and undermined his self worth. As a result, he has dedicated his life to work on behalf of people with disabilities, ensuring they get to live a life with dignity and respect.
“Being bullied throughout my school years…I still struggle with bullying and people who judge me,” said Earle, during an emotional speech at the bi-annual Carleton Place and Almonte family of schools meeting at the Arklan Community Public School in Carleton Place on Wednesday, May 2.
When he was in school, he was placed in a segregated classroom because of his disability, and he keenly felt the “embarrassment, (and) isolation that goes with that label,” Earle said.
Earle was the co-founder of People First of Lanark County, and he was recently elected as the vice-chair of People First of Canada, but while he has a nation-wide support network now, in school, he could never tell who was really his friend.
One day, he was invited to a classmate’s house for a party.
“How excited I was to be included as normal,” said Earle. “Only to be set up.”
When he arrived, he was kicked in the chest and called the R-word.
“It (R-word) is offensive and very much labeling,” said Earle.
Later, he even had his own brother Shane call him the R-word.
It was only years later that Shane admitted to his brother that he would no longer use the R-word, because of what Kory had taught him.
Even his home was not the refuge is should have been.
“You would think going home to a so-called safe zone would be safe. It was not,” said Earle.
When he arrived home from school one day, a friend’s sister accosted him, threw him up against a wall and started to choke him.
Halfway through his speech, Ward 1 Upper Canada District School Board Trustee Anne McRae, comforted Earle when he broke down momentarily before regaining his composure.
“It’s one of the things I get called about the most, as a trustee,” said McRae afterwards about bullying. “Parents want it kept in confidence. They want a sounding board. They are concerned for their kids.”
And when it comes to students with special needs, “they are often the first group of people who are bullied,” said McRae.
Beatings and name calling can leave emotional and physical scars, but bullying can manifest itself differently in different people.
“I was a chubby little girl,” admitted Brea Lawrenson during her presentation, following Earle’s. “Kids can say some very mean things. They called me chubby and fat…it made me not want to go to class.”
As she left elementary school and made her way into Grade 9, she began a dark journey into anorexia.
“As I lost weight, I noticed I started getting more friends,” she said. “People were being nice to me.”
Her journey ended with her being sent to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, following her anorexia diagnosis, and then two years of treatment thereafter.
“It is something I struggle with every day,” said Lawrenson.
Lawrenson has since gone on to graduate from Carleton Place High School and the police foundations program at Algonquin College. She has also toured schools throughout western Canada as part of the Canadian Red Cross’s RespectED program, where she sings songs she has composed herself to people her own age about her, and their, struggles.
“They seem to be really accepting when it comes to music and playing songs that they know,” she says. “Some crowds are quieter than others.”