A spirited army of purple united at the steps of the legislative building in the brisk cold on the evening of Oct. 20, to battle homophobic bullying.
In response to the overwhelming number of recent suicides due to homophobic bullying in the U.S., and on the heel’s of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign, organizers planned the inaugural Spirit Day.
It began as a plea to wear purple on Oct. 20, started by 11th grade student Brittany McMillan in Surrey, British Columbia.
The initial spark, conceived by McMillan, and nurtured to life on social networking websites like Facebook.com and Tumblr.com, began to catch fire, blazing its way across Canada and into the U.S.
“I am so amazed. [ . . . ] The final count was more than [two million] people. It was incredible!” exclaimed McMillan.
According to McMillan, four websites, 10 television networks and 22 businesses went purple.
“I never though that websites would be turning purple nor celebrities wearing purple. [ . . . ] It was especially cool to turn on the TV and see some of my favourite TV show hosts wearing purple,” said McMillan.
Purple was chosen because on the LGBTT* flag it represents spirit.
McMillan hopes that Spirit Day was a good way to remember the young people who took their lives.
McMillan also hopes that Spirit Day will make bullies think twice about homophobic bullying and abuse, and get them to realize just how damaging it can be to a person.
“I hope that [LGBTT*] youth who were contemplating suicide now realize how many people are waiting to accept them into their hearts with open arms, how many people will love them for who they are.”
Chad Smith, director of the Rainbow Resource centre, organized the rally in Winnipeg.
Smith utilized Facebook to pull together the rally in just one week after hearing about the suicides and McMillan’s Spirit Day initiative.
“It was great. We had something like 400 or 500 [supporters] on Facebook, and you never know what that’s going to look like, and it was a good sized crowd,” remarked Smith.
The rally included a large collection of brave youth who recounted personal stories about challenges and triumphs they had faced in relation to homophobic bullying, in addition to many other guest speakers including honourable ministers Jim Rondeau and Jennifer Howard.
There was a “Recognition of Lives Lost,” during which Smith read the names of the young people that had committed suicide, followed by a moment of silence for them.
The rally also featured education on homophobia in schools and youth suicide statistics.
When asked how to resolve the issue of homophobia, Smith pointed out that there are two facets to the solution: policy and practice.
“In terms of policy I think we are there; we’ve got the same rights. In terms of practise that doesn’t happen, [ . . . ] all the discrimination still happens, all the harassment still happens,” explained Smith.
Smith feels that people need to start practising policy and recognizing that everyone has equal rights.
He thought that at the root of homophobic bullying is misconceptions, stereotypes, and a lack of knowledge.
“[ . . . ] When you don’t know somebody, you have all those stereotypes and all those beliefs. When you actually get to meet someone, you’re like ‘Oh, OK, well that’s not true. This person isn’t so bad,’” expanded Smith.
Jesse Fidelack, the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) representative for the LGBTT* community, also made note of another type of bullying that primarily stems from intolerance and neglect.
“Neglect is something that’s huge, so I want to put together awareness and a stronger presence about it on campus,” Fidelack explained.
Fidelack attended the rally with a group of University of Manitoba students, both from the LGBTT* community and allies that were in support of it.
Fidelack said that there was a lot of support from the University of Manitoba students.
“I thought the event was emotional. It was an event that was timely for what was going on internationally as well as locally,” shared Fidelack.
“I think it is a topic of bullying that has affected a lot of students from this school, so it just stirred up a lot of emotions.”