On April 10, millions of Canadians will wear pink to take a visible stand against bullying.
“A pink shirt cannot stop bullying. But wearing pink raises awareness about the issue,” Jer’s Vision founder Jeremy Dias says. “Wearing a pink shirt says to your school and community that you understand that bullying happens and that you are committed to doing something about it.”
Jer’s Vision launched the International Day of Pink in Ottawa in 2007, inspired by two Nova Scotia high school students who wore pink in solidarity with a classmate who was being bullied. Other provinces soon followed suit. BC celebrates its own Day of Pink in February.
Jer’s Vision will stage a gala at Ottawa’s Conference Centre to honour this year’s Day of Pink award-winners, former governor general Michaëlle Jean, Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury and the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi.
The awards are given to Canadians who have made a significant contribution toward eradicating bullying and the oppression of queer youth. Dias says Jer’s Vision accepts nominations throughout the year.
“One of the youths who nominated Jean wrote about the impact that she made in their life by being the first governor general to recognize and support queer charities,” Dias explains. “Her support of queer communities is something that institutionally governor generals have not been able to replicate even today. It’s groundbreaking. It opens the doors for organizations on the national level.”
Students from the Ottawa-area school that bears Jean’s name will visit the Senate on the Day of Pink to speak with senators and ministers about bullying. After the visit, Michaëlle Jean Public School students plan to converge in front of Parliament Hill for a flash-mob performance, while another group of students will stage a living-art installation on Wellington Street.
“Bullying in general is an old problem and is a problem that affects a lot of people,” saysMichaëlle Jean Public School teacher Jonathan Reid. “For schools like mine, the Day of Pink gives us an opportunity for empowerment, and that is one of the best tools to counter bullying and disenfranchised youth.”
Teacher Tammi Jo Auld is hoping to make Prince Edward Island a more open-minded place with Day of Pink activities at Gulf Shore Consolidated School, located in North Rustico.
Auld describes PEI as “unique” but “sheltered” and reveals that one of her cousins left the island before coming out as he did not think Islanders would accept him.
But Auld says she is noticing a shift toward acceptance in the younger generations. In the weeks leading up to the Day of Pink, North Rustico instructors have given lessons about inclusion and respecting diversity, she says.
On April 10, a group titled RAP — for respect, accept and protect — from Gulf Shore’s feeder high school will engage students with a presentation featuring an anti-bullying message.
“They share their experiences with bullying and discrimination and how they overcame it or how they are still working to overcome it,” Auld says of RAP. “For us it’s a very effective way, when kids hear it from other kids. It tends to make a bigger difference than when I speak to them or another grownup speaks to them; it doesn’t have the same impact.”
Auld says she has witnessed homophobia among students and admits: “Dealing with it is tricky.”
It’s not just youth who need educating, Auld notes; parents use gay slurs too.
If parents use slurs such as “that’s so gay,” how will their children know these terms are problematic, she asks. “When Mom and Dad are home and they are using that terminology, it is hard to create change at school.”
Although the Day of Pink may be a “little pocket” of acceptance within the school year, Auld says she hopes the message will carry on and resonate with all students.
Southeast of Gulf Shore in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is Riverview High School. When a nearby all-girls high school closed last year and merged with Riverview, teacher Serena Matheson says, the new female students quickly became the target of homophobia.
The Holy Angel’s girls didn’t realize that holding hands in the hallway would make them the target of homophobic taunts, she says.
But Riverview’s gay-straight alliance and student council quickly defended the girls and made it clear that discrimination would not be tolerated, she says.
This entire week at the school is titled “Riverview shows its true colours,” and Matheson says the GSA and student council have a full roster of activities promoting individuality planned.
“Students need to realize that bullying, for whatever reason, is wrong. The more students that stand up and show that they don’t think it’s a good thing to happen, the more students who are being the bullies will realize maybe this isn’t the best thing,” Matheson says. “The students who are being bullied need to see that there are allies in the school. They need to see that these people, who they may not realize would stand up for them, are willing to stand up for them.”
Dias visited Riverview last year, and Matheson commends Jer’s Vision for instigating change at the school.
“We’ve had more people come into our GSA [since Jer’s Vision visited the school] and a more positive overall influence in the school. The student body has been talking about the conference and they’re more empowered,” Matheson says.
The Riverview GSA is currently fundraising to allow Jer’s Vision to return next year.