Derek Hough Opens Up About Bullying Past: They Had “A Gun to My Head”

Derek Hough
Derek Hough opened up about his past experiences with bullying while accepting an award at the GLSEN Gala in Beverly Hills on Friday, Oct. 17; "They would tie my ankles," he said, and "even hold a gun to my head" Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Derek Hough accepted an award at the GLSEN Gala on Friday, Oct. 17, for speaking out about bullying, which is something he knows all too well. The Dancing With the Stars pro opened up about his shocking past during the star-studded event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.

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"Bullying can be physical, verbal or emotional. Words and threats are just as painful as fists, especially with social media these days. For those of you who don't know, I was actually bullied as a young boy on one occasion," Hough, 29, said in his speech.

"They would tie my ankles up with a very rough rope and hang me in a tree upside down, spit on me and call me names, even hold a gun to my head," he recalled. "Coming from a family of hunters, I assumed the gun was real. I didn't tell anybody — my parents or teachers or friends or sisters."

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Hough decided to turn the scary experience into something positive. "Dance became my GLSEN. It became my safe place, the place where I could grow and flourish and find those answers," he continued. "I know now that the worst thing you can do is suffer in silence."

In his heartfelt speech, the Nashville guest star encouraged others that are or have been bullied to speak out. "Let me tell you right now, you are not alone. Seeking help requires incredible strength and courage. The most powerful weapon you have against bullying is your voice," he said. "The more I learned throughout the years about kids' behavior, the more I learned that the negativity they project is just a reflection of who they are."

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Hough knew this first-hand. He went on to share that he, too, saw himself as a bully at one point. "When you're in an environment and you're a perfectionist and you’re training somebody, you want to get the best out of them, but sometimes the line becomes blurred. I almost didn't recognize myself," he explained. "It was when I felt scared and insecure."

He added: "You can work hard, gain friends and be a good person. [You can] be a tall beautiful skyscraper or you can tear down all the buildings around you to make yourself feel big even though you're not. That's what bullies do. I feel very privileged and honored to be here. Let's create. Let's not destroy."

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Other stars in attendance with Hough last night included honoree Julia Roberts, Rose McGowan, Jessica Capshaw, Ryan Murphy, Amy Poehler, Jim Parsons, and Cheyenne Jackson.

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