When an auditorium of Toronto high-school students sat down for an assembly Friday morning, the last thing they were expecting was Lady Gaga.
But there was the flamboyant superstar on a pre-recorded video message, speaking personally to the students at the Etobicoke School of the Arts on the subject of anti-bullying and sexual equality.
“It is important that we push the boundaries of love and acceptance,” said the singer, a strong advocate for gay rights.
“It is important that we spread tolerance and equality for all students,” she added, wearing a relatively demure, frosty green jacket, pillbox hat and veil.
Known as a school with a highly tolerant atmosphere, Etobicoke School of the Arts is nevertheless running a campaign this year against bullying and for equality.
The video was Jacques St. Pierre’s idea. The 17-year-old senior and student council president had written to a number of entertainers, including Ellen DeGeneres and Katy Perry, to get them to send a video in support of the anti-bullying campaign.
“I basically sent hand-written letters to them, and I found all of these addresses from a website,” St. Pierre said. “But I don’t know if it was a reputable source. So I don’t know if they all got them, or maybe they haven’t read them yet. Her [Lady Gaga’s]address happened to be right.”
He wrote to the singer in August; in early October, he was with three friends when he noticed an e-mail from the singer on his phone. He downloaded the one-minute video message and told the student council and a teacher. It was kept a secret from the rest of the school until Friday’s assembly.
St. Pierre admits he’s a big Lady Gaga fan. “Huge! I have her posters in my basement, I sing her songs in the shower. I love Lady Gaga.” He sang her hit Born This Way to a school assembly when he running for student council president.
On Friday, news of the video quickly spread outside the school after the assembly, although St. Pierre believes Lady Gaga meant it more as a personal message to the school’s 1,000 students.
“Since the video is directed to me and the school as well, I don’t think she expected to get such a large audience, like we’re getting now, from all the media. I think she just thought she’d be talking to 1,000 kids at a high school in Canada, and that getting that message to those kids could hopefully impact them,” St. Pierre said.
He added that he was taunted by bullies in elementary school. It wasn’t severe, he said, but it has had a lasting impact. “And it always will,” he said.
“At that school, whenever I wanted to audition for a school play or musical, people would say ‘That’s so gay’ or ‘You’re such a fag.’ It got to the point where I would be teased about it in the playground. One of my best friends joined in with the bullies, and so I lost him as a friend.”
Even with his school’s comparative tolerance, St. Pierre says that bullying and prejudices persist, as it does with any high school.
“I had one student come up to me last year, after I had won the [student council]election, and he told me that he thought this whole idea of equality and anti-bullying that I was preaching would make the school seem too gay,” he said. “It’s smaller things like that, that happen here, which still affect people.”
St. Pierre said he would like to major in musical theatre in college; New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which Lady Gaga briefly attended, is his top choice.