This article originally appeared in the October 26 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
By BRITTANY FINDER
SOUTH HADLEY -- On Oct. 20, I participated in Spirit Day. I joined hundreds of thousands of young people across the United States who wore purple in remembrance of the six youths who committed suicide after they were bullied or harassed because they were gay or were thought to be gay.
The suicides of LGBTQ youth covered by the media in recent weeks and months have sparked an important dialogue among Americans about the dangers of bullying and harassment.
As the Spirit Day Facebook page states: “This event is not a seminar nor is it a rally. There is NO meeting place. All you have to do is wear purple.”
According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) website, “purple symbolizes ‘spirit’ on the rainbow flag, a symbol for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Pride that was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978.
The goal of Spirit Day is to show LGBT youth who are victims of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment that there is a vast community of people who support them.”
I wore purple on Spirit Day as part of the movement to show LGBTQ youth that millions of Americans accept and value them regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment is not a new phenomenon in our society.
According to Ashleigh Eubanks, a member of the Beyond Tolerance Project at Mount Holyoke College, “These [suicides] are not anomalies or isolated incidents . . . LGBTQ youth have been committing suicide for years now. They have the highest suicide rate among teenagers.”
While many people have been quick to blame information and communication technologies, including social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, for their role in creating new forums for bullying and harassment, “the [real] problem is with our society. We should take a look at the way we address or don’t address these issues.
This is all of our responsibility, as a whole,” says Eubanks. “These suicides are reflecting our [society’s] values and beliefs.”
As Eubanks implies, there are systems at work that permit and perpetuate deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior intended to harm others.
We need to come together as a society, like we did on Spirit Day, to dismantle values and beliefs that endorse behaviors, like bullying and harassment, that disrespect others. The Aspire Project is working towards this goal.
Moreover, we need to show our youth, from all walks of life, that their differences are not just tolerated by society, but that they are accepted and valued, and that they are loved.
Brittany Finder is a student at Mount Holyoke College and Aspire Project contributor.