Today marks the third annual Spirit Day, on which individuals wear purple (the color of “spirit” from the Pride Flag) to show solidarity against anti-LGBT bullying and harassment of any kind. It was created in 2010 by a Canadian teenager named Brittany McMillan in response to a spate of suicides that gripped national headlines. ThinkProgress and our colleagues at the Center for American Progress Action Fund are again proud partners of today’s event and have worn purple today to show that bullying does not have a place in a peaceful, progressive society:
A note from Zack Ford, editor of ThinkProgress LGBT:
It’s hard to believe that two years have already passed since we were all first ravaged by the tragic suicides that served as our wake-up call about bullying, and yet it seems like just yesterday. That’s only two years that we’ve had “It Gets Better” as part of our vernacular, only two years that names like Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, and Tyler Clementi have been known to us, and only two years that we’ve really taken stock of just how negative our school climates have become. The advent of new technology is not without its consequences, and social media has created a venue for bullying to persist 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for some young people. Such constant negative messages can reinforce depression, lower self-esteem, and create environments devoid of joy, with repercussions for both those inclined to bully and their victims. Given how little we still understand about the full impact of bullying in the modern era, it is likely that we still grossly underestimate the lasting harm it causes for young people when it goes unaddressed.
This was most apparent two me two years ago when I attended the funeral of 14-year-old Brandon Bitner. Brandon’s death hit close to home — literally. He lived just a few towns away from where I grew up in central Pennsylvania, and was a musician studying at the same university where I, too, had taken lessons in high school. Bullied repeatedly for his perceived sexual orientation, Brandon took his own life in the wake of other suicides that had made national news. It was clear from the reactions I witnessed and discussions I heard at his funeral that his community was none the wiser on the issue of bullying from his death, at least not in the immediate. In fact, the pastor’s eulogy did not even mention how Brandon had been treated at school, choosing instead to blame his depression and ignore any of the factors that might have exacerbated it.
Bullying is a very real part of our culture, and it is an injustice to all people of all ages if we try to hide, ignore, or downplay it. Claims that bullying is just a part of growing up are defenses of bullying that allow its torment to persist. Wearing purple for a day might seem like a small act that doesn’t accomplish much, but any opportunity to refresh and refocus our awareness of the bullying epidemic is an important occasion indeed. Promoting respect and understanding is a very long journey that will surely extend beyond any of our lifetimes, but one day of progress toward safer schools and healthier young people is progress nevertheless. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of a team that supports that mission.