Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pink Day makes me Think Day (and write too)

I saw a sea of pink today.
It was at the girls' school.

Nearly every student and every teacher was wearing a pink t-shirt with the words,
Acceptance - Born this Way printed on the front.

Today was Pink Shirt Day in Canada.  It's a day to stand up and declare intolerance for bullying.  In case you're interested, it all started like this:

Pink Shirt Day began in September 2007 at Central High School in Cambridge, N.S., when a ninth grader arrived wearing a pink polo shirt.  He was bullied mercilessly by a group of 12th graders who told him if he ever wore a pink shirt again he'd pay for it.  When two seniors, Matthew Shepherd and Travis Price , got wind of  what happened, they had an idea.  They purchased 50  pink shirts and tank-tops and sent out messages inviting as many kids as possible to wear them to school.  Not only did they easily distribute the shirts, but almost 300 students showed up dressed in pink, some from head to toe.  One of the bullies saw the sea of pink and threw a trash can in protest,  but as Shepherd would say  later, not a peep was heard from the bullies after that day.  The story was picked up by the national media and later overseas as well.  Today there are schools around the world that hold annual Pink Shirt Days, all because two Canadian Grade 12 students decided to step up to lead.

(John Izzo, author of Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything)

The Dance Specialist at the girl's school, Confederation Park, took things a step further this year.  She joined Confed up with many other schools in the Lower Mainland, and one in New York City to take a stand against bullying in a tangible way.  The students learned choreography to Lady Gaga's anthem, Born this Way, and performed it in a public space on the same day.  The performances were videotaped then combined and edited and posted on YouTube yesterday in preparation for today's Pink Day.   One of the goals of the project was to show students that social media can be used to send a positive message, rather than only perpetuating bullying.   Here is their offering:

During the Community Gathering (we used to call them Assemblies) at Confederation Park this morning, the students entered the gym to Born this Way.  They danced their hearts out.  There were big kids and small kids.  Asian kids and white kids.  Indian kids and First Nations kids.   Kids with special learning needs and kids at the top of the class.    The dance was followed by drama and more dance, and an original rap.  It featured Ellie's class sharing their findings on special needs and Sasha's class performing a reader's theatre.  All of the kids wore their pink shirts with pride.

It was powerful and beautiful.

I was filled with sadness today too.

Here's the back story -

Last year, the Burnaby District of Education was proposing an anti-bullying policy which specifically addressed students and staff who fall into the category of Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLQBT).  Evidence pointed to the fact that kids and staff in the GLQBT community experienced more bullying than other groups of students.  Thankfully, some of the Trustees of the Burnaby School District drafted a policy and put it to the board for a vote.

It didn't take long for a firestorm to erupt.  One particular group of parents, who gave themselves the name Parents' Voice, became particularly organized and vocal.  They went to work at defeating the policy through the media and public forums.  It seemed that to them, the Bible says that being Gay is a sin and protecting those students in the GLQBT community would only draw attention to the "Gay agenda" - and possibly corrupt their children.  I know, I shuddered too.  But along with my shudder, I was embarrassed and sorry.  Why?  Because I live my life trying to follow the ways of Jesus.  And I grieved the message these members of Parents' Voice were perpetrating on behalf of "Christians".

On a personal level and an aside, our girls were taking their music lessons at the Willingdon Church Fine Arts Academy last year.  It was horrifying to me to learn that most of the most vocal members of Parents' Voice attend Willingdon Church.  Though the leadership of the church never endorsed the message of Parents' Voice, they didn't take a stand against it either.  But I had to.  We didn't re-enroll our girls in music lessons at Willingdon because we just couldn't be associated with a community that wouldn't stand up to adult bullies in their midst who were actively spreading fear and propaganda.  Evidently, I don't follow the same Jesus that the Parents' Voice members do.

In today's Vancouver Sun, I discovered that Parents' Voice was at it again.  Apparently, they'd written a letter to Premier Christy Clark and Education Minster George Abbott calling for the government to prevent teachers from posting the YouTube video of the Born this Way project.  Thankfully, the government did not intervene and the message of the song and the project were released as planned.

A few weeks ago I was reading the local newspaper online from the rural area in southern Manitoba that I'm from.  I read something that stopped me in my tracks and overwhelmed me with sadness.

You can read the story here.

Here's the thing I get stuck on.  Whether the parents in Altona who lobbied for the removal of the signs want to admit it or not, their are GLQBT kids in their schools.  In all of their schools.  And somewhere in that school that signs went up in, there's a kid coming to terms with their sexuality.  And in the midst of their own struggles, the soundtrack they are hearing is that even a small sign in one of their classrooms  that references the GLQBT community is too offensive to leave up without a fight.  If a sign is offensive, wouldn't you think that kid thinks their sexuality and identity must be too offensive to come out with too?  And my heart breaks for that kid.

Today's Vancouver Sun also featured a story about a 15 year old Richmond student named David Levitt,  who came out as gay when he was 12 years old to one friend.  That friend spread the news and horrific bullying ensued.  The boy tried but failed to kill himself three times because living in that kind of reality was too much to bear.  Together with support from his parents and the local GLQBT community, he's now working as an advocate to encourage more of the Lower Mainland's school districts to implement  explicit policy that takes a stand against bulling those in the GLQBT community.  What a fighter.

Only he shouldn't have to fight.

And one day, I hope kids like David won't have to.
(I'm not holding my breath.)

But the sea of pink at Confederation Park this morning gave me hope.
And for that, I'm grateful.


  1. Ah, Karla. Will it be easy for you to move back to the bible belt? You've written quite a piece here- well stated, compassionate, passionate. I still believe that you will pursue journalism, and all these years that you are currently in are preparing you for such a time. As for following Jesus, I feel your pain. You sound more resolute, less confused than I am. Keep writing, my friend. Keep searching. Keep your heart soft. Keep caring. Be bold. I love you.

  2. Video makes me cry. I'm sure the tears have nothing to do with wearing the same outfit for five days. I was born this way, baby.

  3. Damn right. You and me both, my Joycie.