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  • Photograph by Pink Revolution

How a Pink T-shirt Became a Catalyst for Change

This blog comes to us from Amanda Guthrie, Youth & Education Coordinator at the Avenue Community Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity. 

Last week, Transgender Awareness Week and the Pink Revolution campaign coincided. You may have seen some of the events on the news or in the paper. Today, Amanda takes some time to reflect on why these weeks and campaigns are so important. 

For the past five years the Avenue Community Centre has run a campaign focused on eliminating bullying. This campaign is called Pink Revolution and this year it ran alongside Transgender Awareness Week – a powerful coincidence that led to a strong message about ending bullying based on gender and sexuality.

In 2007, a grade nine student named Charles McNeil was publicly bullied simply for wearing a pink t-shirt. The next day, two students at his high school brought 50 pink t-shirts to school as a symbol of support and solidarity – to show that no person deserves to be bullied. Every year since then people across Canada and the world celebrate their actions by wearing pink and working to make our schools and our communities safe places for all.

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Pink Revolution builds upon this act of public support by spreading the message that discrimination of any kind is never okay and that small acts of solidarity can lead to large social change. It was also created to take the message deeper, to name the real bullies: homophobia and transphobia. This is why it was particularly powerful that Pink Revolution and Transgender Awareness Week took place at the same time, because transphobia and homophobia are more often than not rooted in gender-based bullying. Charles McNeil could have worn his pink t-shirt to school for many different reasons, maybe it was because pink was his favourite colour or maybe it was because he had no other shirt to wear. Either way, it is problematic that in our current society, boys and men don’t often wear pink because it is seen as feminine colour.

Heteronormativity = The assumption that everyone is heterosexual and will identify as heterosexual

Cissexism = The prejudice and discrimination against people who are not cisgender
Cisgender = A person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth and the gender that typically associates with that sex. Example: A person born and assigned female at birth who comfortably identifies as a woman

The impacts of cissexism and heteronormativity include the societal policing of behaviours, colours, and expressions along gender lines, as a result, associating with the wrong colour can lead to targeted harassment and violence. The bullying that Charles McNeil faced simply by wearing a pink t-shirt illustrates the fragility of a system reliant on exclusive gender expectations.

As well, it illustrates the systemic oppression that transgender people face throughout their lives.This oppression leads to violence in gendered spaces like washrooms and change rooms, children being kicked out of their homes for identifying as trans*, employees being fired from their job after coming out, missed doctors visits and inaccurate diagnoses because trans people may fear coming out to their doctor, and so much more.

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Statistics show that trans* and two-spirit people experience an elevated risk of suicide and violence in comparison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and non-LGB community. A study done by EGALE Canada, our national LGBT organization, found that 74% of trans* students were harassed about their gender expression, 80% did not feel safe at school, 47% of trans youth had thoughts about suicide, and 19% had attempted suicide within the prior year.

These are the lived experiences of trans* people in our communities. If these statistics alarm you – then good. They are alarming indicators of the health effects of bullying.

Difference is never a justification for violence, and it is important that we see these statistics like the canary in the coal-mine, an indicator of the health of our whole society: we must continue to disrupt bullying, we must support our trans community, and we must start teaching children, youth, and others that bullying, homophobia, and transphobia have no place within our classrooms, workplaces, and relationships.

Difference is never a justification for violence, and it is important that we see these statistics like the canary in the coal-mine

Pink Revolution works to create safe environments that are free of bullying and any form of violence. Transgender Awareness Week works to raise awareness around not only trans people but also around the injustices and oppressions that face the transgender community at much higher levels than most other communities. Together these two initiatives have shone a light on issues within Saskatchewan and have also highlighted the continued need for education so that students can wear all shades of pink, red, blue, and green, and so that trans* people are accepted, supported, and celebrated members of our communities. We must strive towards creating and maintaining safe communities for all citizens. Until gender-based discrimination, like transphobia, is eliminated, our communities will not be healthy places to live.

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Amanda Guthrie is the Youth & Education Coordinator at The Avenue Community Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity where she runs a queer youth group, called Rainbow Coffee, and facilitates professional development training for businesses, organizations, and school divisions throughout Saskatchewan. 

Want to read more?

Check out the Pink Revolution's Home base here to find anti-bullying resources, more info and how to get involved!

 

Connect upstream.