A Smile and a Safe Space For George
George Kazanjian was a bright, wonderful soul. Kind and caring, he had a smile that warmed the hearts of many. George, unfortunately, took his life eight years ago on this day. We take this opportunity to remember and celebrate George, also reflecting on how this bright and wonderful soul’s light was tragically an unfortunately snuffed out due to societal pressures and occurrences of the plague of bullying. George’s passing ignited a spark in us, a spark that has now become a flame – one that burns even brighter today. He never goes forgotten or erased in our work, for it is because of him that we do what we do.
George’s struggles resonate with so many of us. We have spoken before about what must have been the engulfing loneliness, all-encompassing darkness and overshadowing hopelessness he must have felt – a feeling that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever been ostracized, alienated and bullied because of their sexuality or gender expression – that led him to take his life. George’s struggles, and ultimately his passing, serves as a reminder to us to continue to foster safe spaces for our youth.
Dennis Sheppard, father of Matthew Shepard – who was brutally murdered in October of 1998 in Colorado – says in our short film, A Safe Space, that “your most valuable treasure is your children because they are the next generation to help your country succeed; to lose that generation is a great loss.” His statements echo our position that we must continue to foster safer spaces for our youth.
The classroom, the school by extension, is the space where youth learn and grow for most of their childhood and adolescence. These spaces should encourage our young people to feel safe, rather than fearful or discriminated against. It is unfortunate that George undoubtedly felt that this environment was unsafe for him, due to constant taunts and bullying; this has framed the narrative for the development of our programmes that take a young person’s environment into consideration: their peers, their families and their school’s administration.
Our National School Climate Survey, Stronger Families initiative and our Safer Schools programmes were all developed with this trio of environmental aspects in mind. For us to foster safer spaces for young people to exist free from fear of discrimination and bullying, we must find ways to unearth the culture of bullying in schools, encourage our families to continue to support their loved ones and educate teachers on identifying bullying behaviours and equip them with the tools to help curb this ill, all in the hopes to prevent others, like George, from feeling alone and ostracised.
George’s passing left an immense impact on many lives – people that were close to him and strangers that he would never get to meet. George’s struggle may, unfortunately, be a feeling that is far too familiar to anyone who has ever struggled with their mental health. We sometimes forget or take for granted to express how much someone means to us, how loved they are. Sometimes, life’s moments shield our eyes and blind us to this. However, we must work to remove this veil from our eyes and allow us the opportunity to uplift ourselves and others, remaining consciously aware of how much we enrich the lives of those who know us.
George would have been 24 this year. In reflecting on his life – a light that was sadly dimmed too early but a light that sparked something in us, we can’t help but wonder what George would have felt, looking at where we are now. Schools receiving training. We’re actively talking to and with students; more than that, we’re helping them. What would life for him have been like after experiencing the judgement in the challenge to the buggery law? We know in our hearts that he would be filled with joy seeing the progress that’s been made in the 7 years since we formed. No matter how difficult, no matter how many insurmountable obstacles may have appeared, we always found a way to overcome it – together. We were never alone. We had each other, we supported each other and together, we made great things happen for schools, educators, families and LGBTQ+ children all across the country. We changed it in his honour and we do it so that we tell no more stories of tragedy, only of triumph.
Know, George, that this tragedy will never be in vain; your legacy lives on and we remain committed to creating a better and safer world. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family and all who unfortunately ended their struggle with feeling like they had to endure this pain by themselves.
Eternal rest, eternal life be unto you, George. Rest in peace and know that you are loved and you are missed.
If you know someone who is suicidal or are suicidal yourself, getting professional assistance and learning suicide prevention strategies can be of great help. If you feel like there is no one that you can talk to who will listen with compassion and respect, seek out suicide prevention lines to refer you to access resources or contact any of the following:
- Childline (toll-free, 24-Hours): (868) 800-4321
- Lifeline (24-Hour): (868) 645-2800
- Families in Action 24-Hour Hotline: 628-2333
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-7283