Pink Shirt Day an opportunity to celebrate diversity

Issue: Volume 99, Number 16

Posted: 7 October 2020
Reference #: 1HACPU

Pink Shirt Day officially falls on Friday 16 October, but this year, schools are welcome to celebrate the day at a time that suits them to cater for any disruption to school calendars caused by Covid-19.

Pink Shirt Day at Onslow College, Wellington, had all the markings of a festival, with loud music, flashing lights, candy floss and an adult-sized bouncy castle.

The college held their Pink Shirt Day to coincide with Pride Week on 24–28 August and organiser Simon Armstrong, a Year 13 student, wanted to create an atmosphere showing that difference is something to be celebrated.

“My main focus was getting students who may not have been engaged with this topic to participate in a meaningful way. These might be students who either may not be comfortable as themselves, or who are not comfortable with their peers being themselves.

“So it was not a matter of ‘wouldn’t it be fun to have a bouncy castle?’ but a matter of ‘would a bouncy castle get students involved who otherwise might not have supported or heard the message that difference needs to be celebrated and advocated for?’.”

Massive team event

Simon says it was a massive team event, with groups of students pitching in from across the school. The Year 9 students manufactured over 200 mini Pride flags with the school logo on them.

“I was proud to see a wide range of students taking part, jumping on the bouncy castle (sometimes with our principal Sheena Millar), getting their faces bedazzled, and watching the drag performance compered by an ex-Onslow College student.

“I am impressed with the progress that is happening at our school. Of course, the atmosphere and culture of inclusion takes a long time to cultivate, but events like Pink Shirt Day help send a clear and direct message to students that they are welcome and celebrated here.”

Simon’s efforts in leading Pink Shirt Day were supported by teachers Tessa Hope and Ana Welham.

“This is where Simon was an absolute legend as he really made Pink Shirt Day into an awesome celebration that really helped our school reinforce our positive and inclusive culture,” says Ana.

“We have a whakapapa of very courageous students who have spoken openly about their gender and sexual identity to their peers and been supported by teachers and our student support team to be themselves.”

It’s all about visibility

Onslow College is committed to preventing bullying bullying, with tuakana-teina-based programmes helping build community and care among its students. It is constantly seeking to improve: the school conducted a survey to help identify areas they needed to work on to help build the school’s inclusive culture.

Events that promote inclusivity, like Pink Shirt Day, are allocated a budget by the school to give validity to the concept being celebrated. 

Tessa says it’s all about visibility.

“Pink Shirt Day as a whole-school event brings diversity out into the open to promote pride of self and inclusion. Our school community celebrates difference; we don’t hide from it, or shy away from difficult discussions.

“Visibility encourages questions, which promotes discussion. I had a significant conversation with a Year 11 student who described our Pink Shirt Day Drag Show as ‘scary’.

“I was able to talk them through the difference between being ‘scared of’ something, implying there is danger to you, and being ‘challenged by’ something, which implies there is more for you to learn and understand.

“They recognised that they were indeed not ‘scared’, but had questions,” says Tessa.

The school has a student-led and teacher-supported LGBTQ+ group called ‘Club Sandwich’. There are gender-neutral bathrooms available for all students to use.

Student voice and agency

Tessa says Onslow College takes a student-centred approach to school life and learning, meaning that student voice is considered when changes are made, with all voices being valid and heard.

“When young people feel seen, they feel valued. When they feel valued, they build honest relationships. And when relationships are strong with staff, that’s when trust has been built up to foster deep and meaningful learning.”

Ana agrees: “I feel that being in a school where people can express themselves and be themselves makes them feel safe, and if they feel safe, they can learn and blossom.

“It is really critical for teachers who want to share a message of inclusivity that we put students in the driver’s seat to organise these events and let them have the creative control,” adds Ana.

What is Pink Shirt Day?

Pink Shirt Day began in Canada in 2007 when two students took a stand against homophobic bullying after a new Year 10 student was harassed for wearing pink. The students distributed pink shirts to their classmates to wear the next day. Their actions went viral and it is now celebrated by countries all over the world, including New Zealand.

Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, says Pink Shirt Day helps to create school environments free from bullying, where diversity is celebrated.

“It’s a day to remind students that it’s okay to be different from others and it’s not okay to bully people just because they’re not the same as you.”

Shaun emphasises that while Pink Shirt Day is just one day on the school calendar, it is a chance for schools to reflect on their culture on an everyday basis.

“It focuses schools/kura to develop programmes and resources to ensure that the commitment to an inclusive environment, where bullying is not tolerated, continues throughout the school year.”

New Zealand schools are encouraged to join the Pink Shirt Day movement and to Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora – Speak Up, Stand Together, Stop Bullying!

Toolkit for a positive school environment

Bullying-Free New Zealand Week

Bullying-Free New Zealand Week, originally scheduled for 18–22 May, has been cancelled this year due to the disruption caused by Covid-19. Keep an eye out for updates on next year’s Bullying-Free New Zealand Week(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:44 am, 7 October 2020

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