It would be nice to never need to do it again, but we do. This year we're marching in Wellington on May 11th, and focussing on transphobic and homophobic bullying in schools. Full details here.
I'll be marching, in solidarity with QUILTBAG youth, and in memory of those who have lost their lives this year and in the years before. And there are two particular things I'll be marching for:
The first is the need to specifically address bullying aimed at children and young people because of their actual or percieved sexual orientation or gender identity. Whilst in previous years Pink Shirt Day has specifically related to homophobic bullying, in New Zealand at least is has now evolved into a more general anti-bullying campaign.
Stopping bullying is of course a cause to get behind, but at the same time transphobic and homophobic bullying does need a specific response. Overseas research puts suicidal thoughts and attempts for LGB High School Students at between 3.5 and 7.1 times higher than heterosexual students and found that 30 percent of LGB youth versus 13 percent of heterosexual youth (mean age of about 18) had attempted suicide at some point. New Zealand statistics appear to follow a similar pattern. Accurate statistics for gender varient youth are harder to come by, but there is every indication that they are significantly higher.
These aren't just numbers. These are kids we know.
QUILTBAG youth are unusual as a minority group, in that usually no other member of their immediate family is a member of that same minority group. Whilst some parents and family members are supportive, even they are often not helped to support their children. Others can be dismissive or outright hostile, meaning that neither home nor school is a safe place. With queer content frequently ignored in lessons, children feel that there is simply no place for them in the world.
Because it is often technically possible for these young people to remain secret about their identity, many are pressured to do so, irrespective of the - sometimes devastating - impact on them, and blamed for being out when they are targeted. Innappropriate toilet facilities and uniform codes make many schools completely inaccessible for gender variant youth.
All bullying needs tackling, but there are specific issues that affect QUILTBAG young people. We can't just shove them under the carpet.
The second is summed up in our slogan 'It Doesn't Get Better Until We Make it Better'. The It Gets Project was an international series of videos in reponse to what was painted in the media as a cluster of suicides amongst queer teens (but was actually the statistical norm) and featured mostly queer adults talking about how much better their lives had become, and encouraging teens to hang on, because it would get better for them too.
The videos were beautiful and heartbreaking. But now it's time for something more.
I'd like every young person considering suicide to reconsider. I believe - hell, I know from personal experience - that things can get much better. But I'd like it even more if we combatted the structural prejudice that allowed them to get to that point. Bullying shouldn't be a part of life, nor should prejudice, nor should suicidality.
The pressure shouldn't be on one individual to put up with what feels unbearable. It should be for all of us to fight alongside them.
Nor should we ignore the fact that for some people it never will get better. That it's already too late. Or others, for whom things have got better, but they still suffer the lasting effects, both emotional/psychological and educational.
'It doesn't get better until we make it better' is more than a message of hope. It's a call to arms.