Since 1999, a British Columbia man has been fighting for a formal apology from his former high school.
On Oct. 22, he'll finally get it.
Forty-two years ago, on page 108 of the 1970 Argyle Secondary School yearbook, the word "fag" was published next to Robin Tomlin's school photo.
"There it was in black and white," Tomlin, 60, told CTV News of the first time he saw the page in the yearbook. "One of the teachers had to do the editing, it had to be proof-read, it had to be sent to a publisher. There were staff that knew."
"[I'd be] walking down the hall, they'd give me a shove. 'You little faggot, get out of the way' — all that, every day," he told North Shore News of the bullying he endured. "In the annual, they even put my name on a list of most absences or most lates because I was scared to go to school."
Tomlin isn't gay, but the slur haunted the badly bullied boy. He told CBC News that he was too afraid to attend Argyle's prom for fear of being beaten up.
"It scared the friggin' hell out of me," said Tomlin. "Homosexuals were beat up and killed back then."
Yearbook apologySchool district apologizes to a B.C. man for a homophobic slur printed in his yearbook
Even after graduation, at his one-year high-school reunion, a bully threatened his life.
He eventually got married and moved out of the area to start over.
"I feel like, emotionally, they've been beating me with a stick for 42 years," he told North Shore News.
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A few years ago, his then-25-year-old daughter discovered the photo in his yearbook.
"She said if that happened now, these people would be in jail," Tomlin recalled.
Only after Tomlin hired a lawyer — and after the school displayed the page, complete with the offending word, at his 40-year reunion — did the school district comply with his wish to have the page in question swapped out for one without the slur in the copies of the yearbook in the school's library.
The district edited the page. District superintendent John Lewis wrote Tomlin a letter of regret, saying that he couldn't take responsibility "for the actions or lack of oversight by staff over 40 years ago."
Tomlin, however, wanted a sincere apology, not just an emailed regret.
Thanks to his story making headlines, he just might get it.
"It was pretty rude of them not to do anything until the media got involved," Tomlin told the Vancouver Sun in a phone interview from his home in the Kootenays, where he is retired and awaiting a liver transplant. "It feels great if it's gonna happen, it'll feel 10 times better when it actually does."
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Lewis followed up his letter of regret with a written formal apology, complete with an offer to meet face-to-face.
"I am writing to formally provide you with a sincere apology on behalf of the entire North Vancouver School District," read a letter sent to Tomlin on Oct. 4 and signed by John Lewis. In his letter, Lewis offered to schedule a private meeting with Tomlin "to provide an apology in person."
"They agreed to fly me and my daughter down for an apology with media present," Tomlin told the Province in an email.
Tomlin agreed to meet with Lewis on Oct. 22.
Tomlin says he expects up to 50 former students to show up for the apology, and has received hundreds of emails of support since news of his story broke.
District spokeswoman Victoria Miles told CTV News that Tomlin's family will receive a new copy of the amended yearbook.
"When you're sick and you're old, you've got your bucket list, and you cross that one off," he told the Globe and Mail. "I wanted to get a message out to the kids that you can stand up for yourself."
Premier Christy Clark hopes the original bullies step forward:
"I hope that the perpetrators of this bullying will find it in themselves to step up and offer their own apologies for what they've done," Clark said, "…because really, for him to achieve a sense of peace of this and begin to heal, he needs to hear some of the perpetrators of this bullying apologize to him."
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