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.
With a report from Wendy Stueck