NEW YORK — After a spate of teen suicides in the Fall of 2010 as a result of anti-gay bullying, one Canadian high school student decided that she was going to make a difference.
Brittany McMillan, then 17, vowed to rally people to show solidarity for LGBT youth, and to take a stand against bullying.
McMillan launched her idea, first on Tumblr and then later on Facebook — an idea that not only went viral, but took the world by storm. The first “Spirit Day” observance took place on October 20, 2010, and by the day of the event, nearly 1.6 million Facebook users alone had signed up globally.
McMillan drew her inspiration and the color for the theme of the observance to heighten awareness of the problem of bullying from the last color stripe of the Gilbert Baker-designed “Rainbow Pride Flag.” The name, “Spirit Day,” she explained, comes from the purple stripe of the Rainbow Flag, which Baker defined as representing ‘spirit.'”
Today, on the third observance of “Spirit Day,” McMillan was in the New York offices of the event’s principal sponsor, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), where she also took time to speak with LGBTQ Nation.
Like many of her peers in high school who were victims of bullying, McMillan said she knows of its effects first hand, having experienced depression and thoughts of suicide herself.
When asked what inspired her to make a difference for herself and others, she immediately credited her teachers.
“That’s the important thing, people need to understand that action needs to be taken” she said. “The teachers, they inspired me, but they know, they see what goes on, and that kids are struggling, and they make the difference.”
McMillan said that her future lies in education, and wants to be a teacher herself.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, wanted to take care of kids,” she said. “Part of preventing bullying, making kids at least aware, is built on good relationships with morals and values.”
She also said that making Spirit Day successful lies in remembering those young people who lost their lives to suicide.
“I share their stories,” she said. ” I tell people their names, their ages and what happened — you know that made them feel like there was no way out.”
But, she said, for society to change, people need to “learn to go outside of your comfort zone and make a stand — Do something about bullying right then when they see bullying occur.”
“It’s like when I talk about the stories, when people take the time to really hear these stories, they learn to more carefully consider their actions, and they stand up in support of all young people,” she said.
She said she’s thankful to all of the major corporations, individuals and small companies who switch to purple and lend their support.
“I want to create, well I hope to create, that good feeling,” she said, adding that everyone — companies, charities, adults, teacher — play a part in building tolerance.
“Not everyone is the same, they all come from different lifestyles, cultures. We need to accept that,” she said.
McMillan acknowledged that social media has played a significant role in the campaign to target bullying and raise awareness for its prevention, and thinks it can play a greater role in spreading kindness as well.
“Tumblr, Facebook, all of them are really an excellent way to get people to hear these stories and then take action.”