On October 20, 2010, we celebrate LGBT “Spirit Day” by wearing purple in honor of a number of gay youth who committed suicide in recent months. I applaud “Spirit Day” and the choice to wear purple to honor those young gay men who are no longer with us. But the world should not honor and protect LGBT youth on just one special day. On every day of every year, we need to symbolically “wear purple.”
The idea for “Spirit Day” was born by Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan. Brittany conceived the idea as a response to the high-profile recent suicides of seven gay boys due to bullying at their schools and homes – most notably the Tyler Clementi tragedy at Rutgers University. Brittany launched “Spirit Day” through social media (using her account on Tumblr, which provides a Twitter-like feed to the blogging world). The idea of wearing purple on October 20 quickly caught on like wildfire through Facebook, blogs and other social media. It’s a reflection of the deep sense of tragedy, and need to do something, that so many people feel in response to the recent suicides. It’s also a measure of the power of social media to help bring about change.
Brittany just put an announcement on her Tumblr account, asking people to wear purple on Oct. 20 in memory of those young LGBT persons who were bullied and harassed for their sexual orientation. She wrote so poignantly:
“On October 20th, 2010, we will wear purple in honor of the seven gay boys who committed suicide in recent weeks/months, many of them due to homophobic abuse in their homes or at their schools. Purple represents Spirit on the LGBTQ flag and that’s exactly what we’d like all of you to have with you: spirit. Please know that times will get better and that you will meet people who will love you and respect you for who you are, no matter your sexuality.”
Facebook and other social media pages then sprung up to memorialize the lost boys with a poignant “RIP Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Cody J. Barker, Harrison Chase Brown, Caleb Nolt, Billy Lucas, Jeanine Blanchette, and Chantal Dube.” Seeing this flash repeatedly across my Facebook page has been simultaneously heartbreaking and inspirational.
It is a reminder that growing up is never easy for anyone, but it’s especially hard for LGBT youth who face a disproportionate amount of abuse and bullying at school. The 2009 National School Climate Survey published by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is sobering. The survey reports that almost 9 out of 10 LGBT teenage students are harassed at school; almost 2/3 felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation; and almost 1/3 skipped school at least one day in the past month due to safety concerns.
The data is not surprising but reveals an unfortunate universal truth: for all their wonderment, children can be so intolerant of anyone who is different. No child should have to grow up or go to school in such an environment. It is unfortunate that it took a wave of recent suicides and resulting media coverage to generate renewed attention on the daily struggle of LGBT children to be just who they are.
While it’s terrific that we commemorate this first “Spirit Day,” I hope it’s not a one-day phenomenon. We can’t forget the need to work hard every day to protect LGBT youth. We need to create a welcoming school and home environment for LGBT children, just like we would for all kids, to be able to their lives openly and authentically.
On October 20, I want to see many people wear purple. I hope to see waves of lavender, plum, eggplant and many other beautiful shades of purple. I hope to be reminded that purple and all other colors of the world’s rainbow are beautiful. And I also hope it’s the start of a new social conscience where we symbolically “wear purple” every day.