Members of the AU community wore purple Wednesday as part of National Spirit Day, a campaign to raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying and harassment.
Purple represents “spirit” on the rainbow flag, which is a symbol for GLBT pride. The campaign is meant to commemorate those who have committed suicide in response to anti-GLBT bullying.
Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan posted the idea for the campaign on Tumblr on October 2 and asked readers to re-blog. It soon gained popularity by word of mouth on various social networking sites, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation website.
McMillan launched the campaign directly in response to the recent suicides of gay teenagers in a short span of time, including Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, Johnson & Wales student Raymond Chase, 13-year-olds Seth Walsh and Asher Brown, 15-year-olds Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg and 17-year-old Cody Barker.
“It’s been decided,” McMillan wrote in her blog. “On October 20th, 2010, we will wear purple in memory of the recent gay suicides. Many of them suffered from homophobic abuse in their schools or in their homes. We want to take a stand to say that we will not tolerate this.”
Sara Bendoraitis, the director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Resource Center, said the day is meant to remember not just the 6 boys who recently committed suicide, but also those who experience discrimination but are not mentioned in the news.
“We will participate [in Spirit Day] to show the community that the Resource Center is a place where everyone is accepted for who they are without judgment ... Those who are bullied every day because they are thought to be GLBT or are open about being GLBT, those who don’t conform to gender stereotypes, those who are different,” Bendoraitis said.
Kae Klepitskaya, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and the director of Transgender Advocacy for Queers and Allies, organized the club’s Spirit Day activities. She said the event is also meant to be a visual symbol of support for members of the AU community to “know that they’re not alone.”
“We need spirit not just to stand up to these tragedies — because these are very tragic events — but to work together to combat and to end this violence,” Klepitskaya said. “It has to come to an end.”
Queers and Allies had a table on the quad with purple ribbons, as well as resources for students about where to go on or off campus if they experience anti-GLBT bullying, such as the Trevor Project hotline — a “24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth,” according to the project’s website.
Additionally, Queers and Allies will officially launch their “This Is Why We Fight” campaign Wednesday night in response to the recent suicides.
Jonathan Harper, an AU alumnus and full-time staff member in the CAS Graduate Admissions office, said he was harassed as a teenager for his sexual identity. Though at first he was skeptical of the campaign’s effectiveness, he wore a purple t-shirt under a light sweater Wednesday. He decided to participate because he wanted to visibly show support.
“It’s to pay homage to people who you don’t know who have suffered,” Harper said. “It’s also part of my own memory of being bullied in high school for being queer.”
The University’s anti-harassment policy prohibits “exploitation, coercion and intimidation” based on factors such as sexual orientation.
Anti-GLBT bullying and harassment is less of a problem at AU than at some campuses and communities, but it is still present, according to Bendoraitis.
“We know that there are issues of harassment and intimidation that go on, even here at AU, and we all must work to end this problem,” she said. “We are here to be a support in whatever form that takes,” Bendoraitis said. “A safe space to be, to chat, to learn, and to grow.”