Spirit Day

Spirit Day is meant to help raise awareness about LGBTQI bullying in schools and otherwise, how it affects queer youth, and what we can do to stop it. As I found out in my teens, you don't even need to be gay to experience abuse.

I will always remember the summer I got a bad perm and had to nearly shave my head to get rid of it. The result was almost a military brush cut, short back and sides with a bit to work with on top. After the initial shock wore off, I decided it was comfortable and actually looked pretty sweet when I spiked the top bits. Why should the boys have all the fun? So I took a risk and kept the look a bit longer than I previously intended.

When I returned to school to begin 8th grade the harassment started quickly. At first it was just 'baldy' and 'Uncle Fester', but eventually a classmate told me that a lot of the girls thought I was a lesbian. Some had even been saying that they didn't want to be alone with me in the locker room any more. Former friends slowly distanced themselves. Eventually the lesbian taunts came out in the open daily, on the school bus and in the halls. I willed my hair to grow back faster, faster! But even when the hair returned, it didn't matter what I told people, no one believed me, the damage was done. I would face those slurs (as well as the ever popular Uncle Fester) for years to come.

The unfathomable part about this, that even bothered me at the time, was that it shouldn't have been damaging at all. A haircut shouldn't cost you friends and cause you cruelty. If other students thought I was a lesbian that should have been an absolutely ok, everyday thing. At worst, a question to be asked to help sort out the high school dating scene a bit maybe - but that's it. Even in the midst of my misery, I knew I was better off than the boys in the same boat. 'Faggot' quickly got attached to guys who were already at the bottom of the social pecking order, regardless of their sexuality. While I copped ongoing verbal abuse and ostracism, I'm certain they experienced physical assault.

I was lucky, I survived, many don't.

Despite all the progress made across most western countries, it's obvious entrenched homophobic culture persists as LGBTQI individuals can still be passively equivocated with sexual predators, rape, paedophilia, or even just being 'overly sexual' (bisexuals often receive comments about being sexually 'greedy' or assumptions about promiscuity).

Considering I didn't even openly identify as queer when my harassment took place, imagine the courage it takes for a LGBTQI teenager (or even most adults) to choose to come out of the closet at their schools and workplaces, expressing who they are, trying to live their lives freely and honestly but always fearing overt/covert discrimination. Being taught the love they feel is wrong. Always knowing that they might encounter someone who will hate, ridicule, assault - or even kill them.

Maybe, instead of continuing to berate kids about bullying - a subject a lot of them have almost tuned out to at this point - the best thing is to just ask them as early as possible what they think and feel about LGBTQI relationships.
  • Try to find out how they perceive fellow LGBTQI students/friends/relatives - without judgement about their initial reactions
  • Address questions or underlying fears and misconceptions about queer/trans/intersex people, their relationships, the types of sex they have, and gender transitioning.
  • Ask them how they'd handle being accidentally hit on by a classmate, or finding out that a friend or classmate was gay, and how they can report harassment and abuse they might witness
Set them up to meet awkward situations with understanding, compassion and confidence, so one day, it is no longer any more awkward than coping with budding heterosexuality. Fostering these discussions will help more kids stand up to bullying and discrimination firmly, but also with humour and empathy, instead of spreading rumours or letting their fears lead them to ostracise friends or fellow students.

We have a chance to eliminate homophobic attitudes and archaic prejudices by diffusing them early, with the hope that it will make things better not just for queer kids, but for all kids.

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