According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a bully may be defined as someone who is ‘habitually cruel to others who are weaker’. Most of us have already been bullied at some point in our lives; maybe we were the nerd at school, or the one who failed everything. Maybe we were overweight. Maybe our hair was all over the place. Or maybe just maybe we may have looked at the wrong person at the wrong time. Many people would actually argue that bullying is just another aspect of school life, we get through it because there will always be bullies in this world so it is pointless crying about it. But many do end up crying, especially those who end up losing a loved one. Every day we keep hearing about more and more teen suicides related to bullying. And that is why Spirit Day was conceived back in 2010 by Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan.
Spirit Day is an annual event when people come together in support of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) people who are being bullied due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and also to commemorate those who felt that what they were going through, the constant pain and humiliation, the feeling of being alone in this enormous world, would never stop. The observance of Spirit Day began due to the large amounts of bullying related suicides of LGBT people in 2010. Especially the suicide of Tyler Clementi who was filmed secretly using a webcam by his own roommates as he kissed another man, which was immediately transmitted on the web. It was due to this highly publicized suicide that McMillan decided it was high time something was done. And ever since then, Spirit Day has been observed annually on every third Thursday of October, including in Malta.
In fact, the University of Malta LGBT Society (We Are) is asking people to wear purple on the 17th of October and post pictures on their Facebook wall and write their feelings about bullying. But why purple? Purple is the symbol of spirit and hope on the rainbow flag created by Gilbert Baker and so it became apt to use for an event which attempts to instil hope in the people suffering from bullying. In a statement by Rosa Huhtamäki PRO of We Are, she says it is important that we teach our youth to respect each other regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, clothing style, ethnicity, and so on. And that is what Spirit Day is all about.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens, with about 4,400 suicides per year. And what about Malta? The Times of Malta reported 229 suicides between the year 2000 and March of 2010. Every year an average of 24 men and 12 women commit suicide.
Despite these macabre statistics, education goes a long way. It is very important to educate from a young age that just because we are all different, it does not mean we are not all the same. There is never a good reason to treat someone differently, to be cruel. So while wearing a purple shirt may mean nothing to you, it may mean something to someone being bullied, to know that they have an ally in you. There is strength in numbers, so how about for one day, on the 17th of October, we fill University with purple. And maybe who knows, it may give someone the strength to speak up about what they are going through. And something meaningless would have become something beautiful.