Spirit Day Beyond Purple

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[Shannon Cuttle is an educator, school administrator, safe schools advocate and trainer, community organizer, and policy wonk.]

Over the past few weeks we have seen a great amount of interest and support for the youth who recently have lost their lives to bullying and harassment, from celebrities to politicians to organizations and campuses nationwide creating vigils, events, and videos opening the door to discussion on LGBTQA bullying and harassment in our schools and universities. These conversations are important but they are only the start.

Today, thousands of people around the country and the world will be wearing “purple” in honor of Spirit Day” meant to be a day of remembrance of the 6 LGBTQ youth (plus all since then) who took their own lives from bullying and harassment at the start of this school year. The day, started by a Canadian youth Brittany McMillian over Facebook, has received an international response and has grown to be endorsed by organizations, celebrities, businesses, politicians and newspapers all supporting and encouraging others to wear “purple” today.

But has the message reached beyond the color “purple” as to what we need to do to support anti-bullying/harassment and fight hate in our schools?

Yesterday, I spoke with a government official about “Spirit Day” and asked what they were doing in support. The response was “wearing purple for purple day at work”. When I asked why they were wearing “purple for purple day at work” the reply I received was, “because…… it is purple day”.

Visibility is an important step in any movement or awareness campaign, but so is messaging.

I have seen a number of mixed messages on what the importance of “Spirit Day” represents on October 20th with many groups. Some have said the day is to show solidarity for only 6 LGBTQ suicides while others have said it is for a gay awareness day or just plain purple day. One thing I do know we need is to recognize all within the LGBTQA community who have suffered and/or lost their lives from bullying and harassment. Since the start of the Facebook page for “Spirit Day,” at least 13 other LGBTQ/gender non-conforming youth have lost their lives to bullying and harassment.

For me, I would like to think that today the color purple, which means spirit on the LGBT pride flag, represents a united front from all communities standing together against bullying and harassment for all LGBTQA students, educators, and families in supporting inclusive safe schools.

Hope + Action = Change

We need to create a collective response of hope and change to empower our youth and communities to take a stand against all forms of bullying and harassment. The spirit of that collective response will be a powerful force leading the way to change and support for youth.

Today, as we remember youth that have lost their lives to bullying and harassment, don’t just change your avatar, but take the next step to create change in your local community. Send a message of hope and action. Reach out to your co-workers, neighbors, family members and friends on why you are wearing purple for Spirit Day and what it means. Write an op-ed in your local paper on why anti-bullying and inclusive safe schools are important to you and your city, county, town, or state. Volunteer your time today to a local GSA, community center, college campus, or K-12 school. Call, email or fax your leaders about why anti-bullying and inclusive safe schools legislation is important for all youth. Help start the next steps to ensure that all youth, including all who may be gender non-conforming or LGBTQA, have safe spaces and inclusive classrooms.

Let’s keep the spirit of all communities coming together to combat intolerance and hate beyond today and make it a part of our everyday.

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