Did you know? Pink Shirt Day was started in Canada in 2007, when 2 students in Nova Scotia took a stand against homophobic bullying. A new student had worn pink to school which led to homophobic harassment from some classmates. The next day, these 2 students headed to the local discount store looking for pink clothes, and bought them out. They handed out dozens of pink shirts to their fellow classmates. The word got around online and suddenly hundreds of students were showing up dressed in pink from head to toe, in an effort to stand together against homophobic bullying. What an amazing demonstration of love and support, and all the more meaningful because it was an initiative by the student’s own classmates and peers. Though the focus was originally on ending homophobic, biphobic, & transphobic bullying, this day was quickly generalized as a day to take a stand against all bullying, with little to no mention of the 2SLGBTQIANB+ community specifically.
While addressing all acts of bullying is important, we at Pembina Valley Pride feel it’s necessary to acknowledge the higher rates of bullying towards Rainbow Community youth. Did you know that twice as many high school students who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual report having been bullied on school property or missing school because of safety concerns than their straight peers? In the UK 55% of 2SLGBTQIANB+ students report having experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying, and 9 out of 10 secondary school teachers say that pupils in their schools have been subject to homophobic bullying. Sadly, many 2SLGBTQIANB+ young people don’t feel there is an adult at school who they can talk to about being gay. Therefore, much of this bullying is never acknowledged or resolved.
We all know that the impacts on victims of bullying are serious and long-lasting. Victims of bullying are 3-5 times more likely to be depressed and are more likely to exhibit symptoms of suicide. Youth who are BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIANB+ are even more likely to have low self-esteem and live with depression than those who fall under just one of those umbrellas. These mental health issues do not just disappear when the bullying stops. Adults who were bullied as children or youth continue to have higher levels of depression and poorer self-esteem than those who were not bullied. And although bullying for cis and straight youth may stop when they grow up and part ways with their childhood bully, discrimination against 2SLGBTQIANB+ adults often continues through adulthood.
The evidence is clear – bullying disproportionately impacts 2SLGBTQIANB+ youth, causing depression and suicidality at rates much higher than their straight or cis counterparts. Bullies themselves are likely to continue to exhibit anti-social behaviour as adults, and are more likely to be perpetrators in date violence and commit spousal or child abuse. By not specifically addressing 2SLGBTQIANB+ bullying in schools and other organizations, both the bullies and the bullied may continue to play out these roles throughout their lives, causing ongoing homophobic, transphobic and biphobic discrimination in society.
We all play a role in reducing bullying against Rainbow children and youth. Parents can talk to their straight and cisgender kids about being respectful and affirming of their peers’ gender and sexuality. Parents of 2SLGBTQIANB+ children and youth can keep communication open and be aware of changes in behaviour that may indicate bullying. Listen to and believe your child when they share concerns. Schools can create and enforce zero tolerance anti-bullying policies against 2SLGBTQIANB+ students. Schools and communities can promote safe and welcoming clubs, such as gay-straight alliances. School boards can advocate for allowing education and conversations about all genders and sexual orientation. Provide training for school staff, community coaches, and club leaders on how to create safe and supportive environments, and how to use students’ chosen name and pronouns. Classmates can stand up to bullying when they see it. All adults, such as teachers, parents, coaches, and community leaders can set the tone for affirming 2SLGBTQIANB+ children and youth. This will go a long way towards reducing stigma and putting an end to bullying.
So this year when you put on your pink t-shirt to stand up against bullying, remember that Pink Shirt Day began as a stand against homophobic bullying, and think about what you can do to reduce homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in your school and community. We at Pembina Valley Pride will always take a stand against bullying, & we hope to see a day where these efforts will no longer be needed, where 2SLGBTQIANB+ folks are loved & accepted by everyone regardless of sexual identity or gender. We see you & we stand with you