||Volume 22, Number 7, May/June 2010
Pink Shirt Day at Chief Maquinna Elementary
By Bill Hood
This year on April 14, for the third consecutive year, our school participated in “Pink Shirt Day” thereby taking a stand against bullying in general, and against homophobia specifically. This event has been strongly supported by our entire community, and has presented an excellent opportunity for all of us, adults and children, to talk more openly about homophobia, the dangers of and damage caused by bullying, and the contribution we make to our whole society when we stand up for the civil rights for all.
The issue of speaking openly about homophobia continues to present a few challenges in some classes, and so the opportunity of a broad, fun public day focusing on fairness and equal treatment for all is a brilliant choice. It is especially gratifying for our students to learn that this event comes from the brave and thoughtful actions of students, just like them, in another part of the country, as they stood up for a friend and classmate. Wearing a pink shirt on this day, gives each person a chance to connect personally to these acts of solidarity and courage.
You may well understand then, when we found out this year, that through some electronic miscommunication, our school’s entire order of pink shirts was not going to be filled, we were frantic. We were afraid that families who had been looking forward to the discussion and connections of this day would feel left out and possibly isolated.
Fabulous good fortune arose from this problem. A small group of us spent some time after school brainstorming how to make the best of this situation. Our solution ended up being so successful that I think we will now make it a regular part of this annual event, even when our shirt orders are filled.
We decided to make pink triangles, out of card stock, for every student to wear, pinned to their shirts. These symbols were a reference to the treatment of homosexuals by the Nazis during the Second World War. Many adults did not know the history of this symbol, or the fact that Nazis used it to identify arrested homosexuals who were sent (along with Jews, Communists, Roma, and other groups the Nazis tried to destroy), to the death camps.
After we compiled a fact sheet based on the information posted at the Wikipedia entry for “Pink Triangle,” almost all of the intermediate grade classes then used this as a teachable moment to connect the current struggle against homophobia to the historic obscenity of the Holocaust. While carefully not equating the struggle against homophobia to the mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis, the parallel was very useful, and a clear illustration of the ultimate potential of where bullying and hate can lead was illuminating.
Students were also told how, in the 1970s, gay-rights activists reclaimed this symbol of terror, turned it upside down, and began to use it as an icon of their refusal to let this happen again. At our school on April 14 , the adults and children proudly wore their pink triangles as they taught, played soccer, asked and answered questions in class, ate their lunch, and did their work. Some classes even used the opportunity to write personal messages of hope and determination on their triangles.
Just as in recent history, what began out of desperation and a problem is now a symbol of pride. My guess is that in future years everyone, at our small school in East Vancouver, will probably be wearing a pink triangle on this important day, and talking about it to anyone who is interested.
Bill Hood teaches at Chief Maquinna Elementary School, Vancouver.