Pink Shirt Day

Queen’s Park, Feb 28, 2018 I’m pleased to rise today on behalf of the Ontario NDP caucus to respond to the minister’s statement on Pink Shirt Day.

In 2007, in small-town Nova Scotia, a grade 9 student wore a pink shirt to school and was bullied with homophobic slurs. Two grade 12 students, David Shepherd and Travis Price, witnessed the bullying and decided to act. They bought 50 pink T-shirts and distributed them to their friends, and encouraged others to wear pink the next day in a visible show of solidarity with the student who was bullied.

That small act of kindness 11 years ago unleashed a sea of pink that has become an international movement, a movement that engages students, schools, communities, law enforcement, businesses and legislatures in standing up to bullying.

Pink Shirt Day speaks to the power of kindness, to change the way people see and experience the world. It lets victims of bullying know that they are not alone, that there are many who care about them and that help and support are available.

Anyone who has ever been bullied, anyone with a child who has been bullied, knows the pain and devastation that bullying can cause. But the impact of bullying reaches far beyond the victim and the person who bullies. Bullying can be just as harmful to the bystander, especially when bystanders feel powerless to intervene. Pink Shirt Day gives bystanders a tool to respond to bullying. By wearing pink, we are signalling that we, as a society, will not tolerate bullying anywhere.

This year, the focus of Pink Shirt Day is on cyberbullying. Ironically, just as the #MeToo movement is empowering women to hold their abusers to account by speaking up about sexual harassment and abuse, cyberbullying by anonymous abusers is on the rise, with girls the most frequent targets. For those who seek to bully or shame others, the Internet offers a cloak of anonymity that makes bullies feel emboldened to harass or intimidate with impunity.

Cyberbullying goes far beyond the halls of a school and can be particularly cruel and insidious. In today’s digital world, cyberbullying can be experienced anywhere and anytime. It leaves despairing victims, especially LGBTQ2 youth, feeling that there is no way out.

Today, schools across this province are engaging students in activities to combat cyberbullying by encouraging people to think twice before posting something negative online and instead to use the Internet to spread kindness.

But of course, Speaker, bullying prevention must be more than a one-day event, more than wearing pink one day a year. I want to recognize the amazing work that schools do on an ongoing basis to empower bystanders and engage students in violence prevention initiatives like Pink Shirt Day. These efforts are needed now more than ever, as more evidence comes forward about the increased prevalence of violence in our schools. Parents are growing uneasy about their children’s safety at school. Teachers are reporting higher rates of lost time due to injury than any other sector. Violence is becoming normalized, with education workers outfitted with Kevlar and lockdowns occurring as a regular part of the school day.

Provincial underfunding is challenging the capacity of education workers to manage the complex behavioural and mental health needs of students. Without coordinated strategies to reduce bullying, the mental health needs of students will increase, since both the victims of bullying as well as those who bully are more likely than other students to experience anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to consider or attempt suicide.

The effective implementation of anti-bullying programs requires resources that respond to a diverse range of students. To create safe and healthy school environments, we need a new education funding model that will put more educational assistants in our schools, more child and youth workers, more behavioural counsellors, more psychologists, more social workers.

Before I close, I want to give a shout-out to the Thames Valley District School Board for their decision to sponsor the London Grand Theatre’s production of Prom Queen: The Musical as part of the Grand’s acclaimed High School Project. Prom Queen: The Musical is based on the true story of Marc Hall, a gay Oshawa student who fought to bring his boyfriend to his high school prom back in 2002. The students who participate in this year’s High School Project and the students who attend the performance of Prom Queen: The Musical with their classmates will learn much about the inclusivity and acceptance that Pink Shirt Day is all about.

Speaker, creating a community where people feel safe, included and valued requires an ongoing commitment to treat others with kindness and respect, and to stand up against bullying whenever and wherever we see it.