With homophobic bullying and its tragic outcomes being covered more in the media, a group of concerned activists have started the Purple Letter Campaign to call for a province-wide sexual orientation and gender identity policy for schools.
Ryan Clayton and Gender Focus’ own Kaitlin launched the campaign this summer and spent the last few months on the road around BC, collecting letters in purple envelopes written to the Premier and Minister of Education.
“Anyone can write a letter,” Kaitlin told Xtra. “Youth, adults, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer students, allies. Anyone who cares about making BC schools safe and inclusive for all students can mail them to us or drop it off in any of our cute mail boxes, which are currently located in Burnaby, Vancouver, Nelson, Salmon Arm, Prince George and Victoria.”
Ryan Clayton told Xtra this type of campaign is necessary to raise awareness of the issue among political leaders: “I’ve heard people in government say they don’t think homophobia is a big issue. They’re not being offensive; they legitimately don’t know it’s an issue,” he says. “Many MLAs are a bit older and haven’t been in high school for a while. Sometimes we have to remind them what the climate is like.”
The Purple Letter Campaign is hoping to take campaigning for LGBT equality in schools to the next level, after the Burnaby School Board passed an anti-homophobia policy last year, becoming the 14th school board in the province to do so. While local school board measures are hugely valuable, the campaign’s organizers argue a uniform policy handed down from the province is the only way to make sure students are protected in every region.
Unfortunately, the organizers don’t have an easy road ahead of them. The passing of the Burnaby policy has led to a backlash from an anti-gay group calling itself “Parents Voice” and recently another group called “Culture Guard” protested at the Vancouver School Board against the hugely successful Out in Schools Program, making an absurd allegation that the group promotes gay pornography in schools.
The Purple Letter Campaign is asking for folks to share their stories on the blog, where they have a lot of moving stories already posted.
For my part, I’m writing a letter because you couldn’t walk down the hall at my high-school without someone being called a “dyke” or a “fag”, and even though I wasn’t targeted with homophobia I knew how much bullying hurt and I feel ashamed that I ducked my head and let people call other those names because I was afraid of being ostracized or assaulted for standing up to it. Oh, and my school had a “Gay-K-K” – a group of guys who joked about lynching gay kids. That was in 2003 and all the evidence I’ve seen and heard indicates not much has improved, especially in smaller towns.
So I’d encourage you to take the time to write a purple letter – the campaign is ongoing until October 20, when they campaign will deliver the letters to the Premier and Minister of Education on the anniversary of the Vigil to End Homophobic Bullying. For a list of places you can get purple envelopes and drop off letters, click here. You can also follow @Purple_Letters on Twitter and on Facebook.