Emily Tilford, a Grade 12 student at Western Technical Commercial School admitted she could relate to the RCMP officer who had just stepped off the stage in the auditorium last Friday afternoon.
Like Const. Tad Milmine, Tilford is gay. And, like Milmine, she revealed she experienced a particularly harrowing experience a couple of years ago while out with her girlfriend. The couple was sexually assaulted.
That, however, is where their similarities end. While Tilford says she’s comfortable with who she is and received plenty of support from her mom when she came out in Grade 9, Milmine suffered immensely, bullied until he was 17 years old, when he finally decided enough was enough and left home.
Born and raised in Cambridge, Ont., Milmine moved to Surrey, B.C. about eight years ago where he is a first-responder officer. First on the scene, he has seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Milmine is also the founder of ‘Bullying Ends Here’ and speaks to countless schools throughout the country.
“I’m standing here right now because I know what it’s like to be you sitting there,” he told his audience of grades 9 to 12 students.
Milmine’s story began when he was five years old, when he can remember having a dream that he wanted to be a police officer when he grew up. That, and his parents divorced; his mother moved out and his father, a “functioning alcoholic,” took care of him.
“After the divorce, things went bad for me. Dad met the woman of his dreams,” said Milmine.
Dream-like for his father, yet “the devil” to young Milmine.
He was forced to live in the basement – just four cement walls, one small light bulb and a black and white TV. He was forced to eat alone in the basement; wasn’t allowed out on nights or weekends and wasn’t allowed to play sports.
“My dad was right there, but instead of dealing with the issue, he’d grab a drink and tell me to ignore her. I had no social skills. I was absolutely petrified of her,” said Milmine. “At school, it didn’t take very long for kids to figure out that I cried a lot. All they had to do was call me a couple of names. They wanted to see ‘the show:’ the hyperventilating, the shaking shoulders, the crying.”
No one realized just how bad Milmine suffered because he got good grades, but he didn’t feel supported in any way and fell into a deep depression – this went on until he was 16.
“Depression turned into suicidal thoughts. I lost focus. I thought, ‘how can I ever get through this?’”
His life changed forever when at 17 during a one-sided screaming match with “the devil” he walked out the door never to go home again – he hasn’t seen his dad since. Living in his own government subsidized apartment, Milmine finished high school, worked two jobs and learned how to communicate with people and make friends.
“All the tears dried up,” he said.
At 32, he decided to revisit his dream of becoming a police officer after an inspiring conversation with a friend.
“I am living my dream. If you have a dream, it’s meant to be achieved.”
In October of 2011, Milmine read in the news about Ottawa native Jamie Hubley, the 15-year-old son of an Ottawa city councillor, who had taken his own life after being relentlessly tormented by bullies for years.
“I didn’t need to read his story to know Jamie Hubley. All he wanted to do was make a positive change in his world. I was absolutely paralyzed. That’s when I made a decision that I was going to do something,” said Milmine, as he told his young audience of Jamie’s plight.
“I wrote Jamie’s dad an email to ask if it would be okay if I told Jamie’s story. He wrote back with just three words: ‘Yes. Good luck.’ I took those words as inspiration. I was going to take over where Jamie left off.”
Milmine created a website and spent about $14,000 of his own money to establish the Bullying Ends Here initiative.
“Bullying is not a virus. It’s not a disease. It’s up to you to change it. If everyone here decided to make a choice to stop bullying, it’s over. Your school would be famous,” said Milmine.
Western Tech, with the help of school resource officer Dorothy Wojtkowicz, is in the midst of creating a gay straight alliance.
“There’s a lot of interest (for it),” she said.
Western Tech had an alliance last year and would like to initiate one again this year, said Tilford.
“We had a nice space to talk to supportive peers,” she told The Villager.