Pink Shirt Day uses buzzwords, propaganda, and corporate sponsorship to create false positivity

This story was originally published in The Other Press, Douglas College’s student newspaper, on Feb. 24.

NEW WESTMINSTER — On Feb. 24, many people across B.C. will participate in Pink Shirt Day, which was initially organized after a male student was bullied for wearing pink. Other students wore pink t-shirts the next day to stand up for him. Today, thousands of people across B.C. wear pink clothes, pink T-shirts covered in corporate logos, and/or buttons to show that they too are on board with the “anti-bullying” cause.

There’s no doubt that taking a stand against bullying is an important issue that should be encouraged at all levels in society. The severe harassment faced by far too many people daily can have severe psychological and physical effects that can last the rest of a victim’s life. It is an issue discussed more today than ever, and schools are finally starting to incorporate “anti-bullying” measures into their curriculum and policies. At the surface, Pink Shirt Day is a national occurrence reminding us to have the conversation.

But like many awareness campaigns, it has become a cesspool of propaganda, buzzwords, and a false sense of security and accomplishment. People wear the pink shirts and feel good about taking a stand, but they aren’t. Pink Shirt Day allows participants an easy way to feel like they’ve contributed, which potentially eliminates a need to take a further stand. We wear the shirts, we say something about how bullying is bad, and we go back to the status quo. Meanwhile, bullying continues to be a very harmful and often hidden presence in many victims’ lives.

When the heads of our government smile for the media wearing pink ties and buttons while cutting support for mental health, education, and social services, Pink Shirt Day is a problem. When a school’s Gay-Straight Alliance or counselling service is cancelled due to budget cuts, a lack of interest, or complaints from outside influences, it shows that actual anti-bullying measures matter. When a student no longer feels safe at school, is afraid to express themselves, and/or suffers physically and mentally for the things they endure in a learning environment, real discussions are crucial.

“Spreading awareness” is not enough. Taking a stand against bullying is something that should go without saying, and it’s time to take real actions against it instead of patting ourselves on the back for wearing a T-shirt. It’s time to stop failing our students and the rest of society by having real discussions and actions. We don’t need pink shirts. We need adequate funding, discussion, and the support of mental health services, designated safe spaces, LGBTQ+ alliances, stigma reduction, and a curriculum that teaches tolerance and non-violent communication.

But hey — I’m sure the many victims of bullying who committed suicide or were murdered because they didn’t get the help they needed would be just thrilled to know that we’re wearing pink shirts on Feb. 24.

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