On February 22, schools across Canada are celebrating Pink Shirt Day — an anti-bullying initiative which promotes kindness and respect between classmates, peers and fellow humans of all stripes. Wearing a pink shirt on this day is a condemnation of bullying, and a commitment to making schools safe and respectful places for everyone.
The origins of Pink Shirt Day are in Berwick, Nova Scotia’s Central Kings Rural High School, where older kids stuck up for a Grade 9 student who was the target of several bullies, simply for being a boy who wore pink. In a show of solidarity, David Shepherd and Travis Price organized a pink shirt protest. And, just a couple of days after the bullying occurred, nearly half the school was wearing pink.
How awkward it must have been for the bullies, when they realized that their mean-spiritedness was a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the love and compassion shown by the rest of their school.
In the years since, the movement has grown to include professional sports teams (the Edmonton Oilers have rocked pink shirts), police departments, and even the Prime Minister of Canada — who all wear pink as a way of promoting individuality and good will.
So, what does Pink Shirt Day mean to us?
At Safe and Caring Schools, we’re committed to improving the lives of all Alberta children by working to end bullying, violence and sexual exploitation. Naturally, Pink Shirt Day is a perfect fit. It’s an opportunity to peacefully stand up to bullies.
In this way, our vision also aligns with the #MakeItAwkward campaign, an Edmonton organization that encourages everyone to speak out and speak up in the face of racism, homophobia, sexism and discrimination of all kinds. Sometimes, calling people out on their bad behaviour and discriminatory speech can be difficult and awkward, but we encourage people to embrace that awkwardness for the greater good — if and when they can do so safely.
Safe and Caring Schools and #MakeItAwkward will launch an official partnership with a luncheon next month. The #MakeItAwkward team will be incorporating our teaching tools into their platforms in order to reach their targeted audience with concise and helpful info. Meanwhile, the #MakeItAwkward campaign is lending their network and brand to help strengthen our message. We believe that anti-discrimination and anti-bullying go hand in hand, and by working together we can strengthen both initiatives.
#MakeItAwkward was founded when Jesse Lipscombe was the victim of racist taunting. A car full of people yelled a racial slur at him several times while he was filming in downtown Edmonton. He turned that hate incident into a movement based on love and positivity. Similarly, when racist anti-Sikh posters appeared on the University of Alberta campus a few weeks later, the school’s Sikh community made it awkward by launching a “Turban Eh!” event which aimed to educate fellow students on Sikhism.
Pink Shirt Day — and the efforts by David Shepherd and Travis Price — are the very essence of what #MakeItAwkward is all about. Because while #MakeItAwkward is about calling people out on their words in a safe and respectful way, it’s also about responding to negativity and bullying with greater amounts of love and positivity.
On February 22, Safe and Caring School and #MakeItAwkward will proudly wear pink shirts, because we believe that where there is desire and action, love will always trump hate.