Gay athlete joins anti-bullying tour

Last updated 13:00 02/06/2011

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New Zealand's only openly gay athlete is joining forces with Nelson support group Q-Youth on a nationwide tour to raise awareness of homophobic bullying, and to encourage schools to take action.

Olympian Blake Skjellerup and Q- Youth executive director Seb Stewart begin a tour of regional New Zealand high schools aimed at encouraging schools to create support groups and promoting the newly created Queer Straight Alliance Network Aotearoa.

Mr Skjellerup will be talking at school assemblies and sharing his own experiences of being bullied as a teenager, and how he managed to get through school.

"Adolescence can be a troubling time for many teens, where they often feel very alone and are left very vulnerable.

"Bullying, on top of this, sometimes pushes many youth over the edge, leading them to self-harm. This is a situation no young person deserves to be in," Mr Skjellerup said.

Mr Stewart said Nelson was quite fortunate to have such strong gay support, with five out of six high schools having their own support group.

"In Auckland, they have five out of 95, and none are keen to go public," he said.

Recently, Q-Youth ran a campaign encouraging people to write letters to Prime Minister John Key raising their concerns about bullying, and of the 3000 letters collected, 1000 were from Nelson.

This campaign resulted in a meeting with Mr Key, who endorsed the idea and said he was impressed by the enthusiasm of both Mr Skjellerup and Mr Stewart and their efforts.

"The Government takes the issue of bullying very seriously, and we will continue to work alongside schools to help keep students safe," Mr Key said.

The Anti-Bullying and Diversity Tour begins on June 7, travelling from Kaitaia to Invercargill. Information: qsanetwork.org.nz.

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- The Nelson Mail

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