School board to apologize for yearbook slur printed 42 years ago
Vancouver and — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Oct. 04 2012, 7:48 PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 04 2012, 9:25 PM EDT
A former high-school student who had only his name and the word “Fag” printed beside his 1970 yearbook picture says the North Vancouver School District has agreed to apologize personally to him over the incident.
Robin Tomlin said that, as he waits for a liver transplant, he is gratified to finally have the school recognize the hurt he suffered long ago.
“When you’re sick and you’re old, you’ve got your bucket list, and you cross that one off,” he said. “I wanted to get a message out to the kids that you can stand up for yourself.”
Mr. Tomlin said someone from the school board phoned him Thursday afternoon with the news, after he rejected as insufficient an earlier e-mail from the board expressing regret over the incident. “They said they will meet with me and deliver a confidential, private apology and then answer to the media, afterwards, when they go outside,” Mr. Tomlin said in an interview.
He added the school board also agreed to pay for himself and his daughter to travel from the Kootenays, where they live, to North Vancouver. “Media pressure finally got to them,” he said, referring to widespread local news coverage of his complaint over the long-ago picture.
Mr. Tomlin said officials suggested Oct. 22 as a possible date for the meeting, and he agreed.
In an e-mail, the school district’s communications manager, Victoria Miles, did not confirm an apology would be issued.
“The meeting between Mr. Tomlin and Superintendent [John] Lewis is a private meeting,” she said. “If Mr. Tomlin wishes to make a public statement after that meeting, he is certainly welcome to do so, and Superintendent Lewis may choose to do so as well, but the meeting itself is private.”
Mr. Tomlin said he has been trying for an apology since the year 2000, after his daughter came across his picture with the word “Fag” attached in the annual yearbook of Argyle Secondary. But only when he posted the matter six months ago to a Facebook page for Argyle graduates and a lawyer wrote the school board on his behalf was he taken seriously, he said.
“You can imagine how I felt [to see that], when I was 17 years old.… My first reaction was why, then fear, then how do I hide this?”
Asked who was to blame for the slur appearing in the yearbook, Mr. Tomlin declined to name anyone, but added: “They’re all listed in the yearbook, including the staff teacher involved. I’m not angry. I forgive them, and I do that because I know who they are, and they know who they are, and they’ve got to live with it in their conscience.”
He said a group of eight to 10 “jocks” made his life miserable at school, pushing him in the hallway and taunting him. He said he was too frightened to complain. “Back then, when you were accused of being gay, it was either be beat up or killed, and I wasn’t gay.”
He said none of those responsible have apologized for what they did.
And he said he is pleased by the support he has received since news of his yearbook photo surfaced. He expects as many as 50 former students to show up for the apology “and today, I received 266 new e-mails. It makes me feel good.” , and it makes me happy that something will be done about this. This is a victory.”
The school district has also agreed to reprint and replace the page on which Mr. Tomlin appears in all its copies of the yearbook, with the offensive word omitted.
Mr. Tomlin married in 1976. He has two children.
Tomlin said he wants to use his newfound fame to advocate for bullied kids.
“The message I want to get out to the kids that are being bullied today: stand up for yourself now that they know the school board will acknowledge them,” he said. “When it happened to me it was just the school that knew about it.
“If it happened today, the entire planet would know about it."
When Tomlin learned, on a visit to the school library, that the entry could still be viewed there, he asked Argyle to alter the book, but was rebuffed, he said. In fact, the annual - including the offending entry - was displayed at his 40-year reunion.
“Back then, when you were accused of being gay, it was either be beat up or killed, and I wasn’t gay.”
It has occured to me since i posted this that many people today wouldn't understand what an accusation of homosexuality meant in 1970. People would be physically in danger. It could affect employment prospects, too. This was just a year after the Stonewall riots in New York.
In Grade 12, Tomlin, who was just five feet, five inches tall and 122 pounds, was a favourite target of a group of about 10 jocks in his class.
“(I’d be) walking down the hall, they’d give me a shove. ‘You little faggot, get out of the way,’ - all that, every day,” he said.
When, near the end of his final year, Tomlin flipped open the newly printed yearbook and found the name he had been called so many times made permanent - with the tacit approval of school staff - he was crushed. And more than that, he was frightened.
“It scared the friggin’ hell out of me,” said Tomlin. “Homosexuals were beat up and killed back then.”
When some of his tormentors told him he’d get hurt if he showed up to graduation, he chose not to go.
I repeat myself: Isn't it interesting that the former bullies have nothing to say now? That's because they're gutless cowards. I'm sick and tired of people who minimize bullying in the schools.