A much younger Jordan Stringer took a chance once.
The boy from Little Heart's Ease, the small town 40 minutes east of Clarenville, made the decision to confide in someone he considered a friend something he had known about himself since he was six years old.
Stringer was in Grade 9 when he told someone for the first time he was gay. It was the first step he had taken to get out of the closet.
He soon regretted it. This friend let others know.
A little while after he was in the change room at school. One of the other boys in the room took offense to Stringer’s sexual identity and pushed him up against the lockers in the room.
With his other hand, the attacker forcefully grabbed Stringer’s testicles and asked whether he liked it or not.
Even now, the incident causes Stringer to pause when telling it. The wounds are still deep. The incident caused him to try and get back in the closet.
The confrontation is just one of a number of cases of bullying that Stringer experienced growing up in rural Newfoundland.
Steeped in tradition and old-fashioned values, small-town Newfoundland can be a difficult place for those who are different.
People understand a certain way of life and a swerve from that can cause distrust and misunderstanding.
Those lines still run deep in certain parts of the province.
With that said, Stringer doesn’t want this to be an indictment of rural Newfoundland. He loved where he grew up and still holds a fondness for it in his heart.
There were just parts of the experience that weren’t kind to him. He was suicidal in junior high but survived and found a good group of friends in high school.
Still, as much as he could confide in those friends, there was no connection with other people like him.
Slowly, Stringer started taking steps that help him lead a better life.
About a year ago, Stringer merged the two different streams of his life. He had enough of keeping the two separated.
A teacher at Elwood High in Deer Lake, Stringer received 100 per cent support from his employer and things have been going really well.
His mental health and his physical health is better.
A couple of weeks ago, Stringer was asked by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District to be the keynote speaker at a series of Gay-Straight Alliance forums at two schools in central Newfoundland in May. They are designed at building a stronger community.
It will be a powerful moment for Stringer when he walks onto those stages into Springdale and Grand Falls-Windsor.
Each step will mirror the steps he has taken in his life up to this point. He's has gone from a victim of bullying as a child to a successful professional working the same school system he had such hardship in before.
He’s gone from someone in hiding to finally letting people know who he really is. It wasn’t too long ago when he kissed a man in public for the first time.
Stringer doesn’t know if he’s going to have an entire speech ready for the forums next month in Springdale and Grand Falls-Windsor.
“It is terrifying and very humbling,” he said. “I feel privileged.
“I will be facing some of my greatest demons.
Stringer doesn’t want to follow a script. He is sure he’ll have talking points and other things he will follow, however, he wants it to flow organically.
The sessions are all about helping people.
Stringer arrives at work each day and sees himself.
He looks around this classroom and he sees those same scared kids he was. He sees the kid afraid to let anyone see their true selves.
If even one kid listens to his story and decides to make a difference in his life, Stringer will have succeeded.
He thinks if he had heard speaker saying similar things or even the idea of a gay-straight alliance group, things might have been different for him growing up.
“I wouldn’t have been the kid that took a bottle of pills in Grade 9,” said Stringer. “It’d be life changing. Man, how could it not be?"
Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at Nicholas.firstname.lastname@example.org.