Why We NEED Safe Schools And Wear It Purple Day
By Samuel Leighton-Dore
With Wear It Purple Day coming up this Friday, it was super tempting to write a cathartic personal essay on the struggles of being bullied in school for your sexuality and the importance of being nurtured in those vital years of emotional/physical/psychological development.
It was tempting to write about the time I was pinned to the ground by a group of so-called friends at one of my first ever sleep-overs – it was tempting to write about how one 12-year-old grabbed my dick from beneath my trousers, laughed, and called me a fag as his mother went about cooking dinner in the next room. It was tempting to write about the vivid memories of schoolboys circling me, hawk-like, cackling and calling me names as I wept for my family. It was tempting to write about the profound cost – emotional, physical, financial – the bullying had on my parents and their marriage. It was tempting to write about the myriad defence mechanisms and social anxieties that still trip me up as a result – today, some fifteen years later.
But today it was spectacularly revealed that a petition signed by 17,000 well-meaning, misinformed and scared parents has been lodged against the Safe Schools program – and yeah, I’m angry about it. So instead I want to write about how initiatives like Wear It Purple Day and Safe Schools are about so much more than sexuality and fostering a culture of tolerance in the schoolyard. I want to write about how they’re about beckoning in a new generation of young adults – adults who inevitably grow into middle-aged men and women of varying manner, religion, disposition, ethics and fulfilment. How they’re about ensuring these middle-aged men and women understand, at a basic level, the difference between right and wrong – ensuring they know how to treat other people with respect.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt since leaving school, it’s that bullying isn’t restricted to the empty corridor between classes. Sometimes the bully is a work colleague, your boss, your partner, a close relative, your local MP, or even your Prime Minister. We might grow up, our skin might thicken – but the adversity faced by much of our community simply adapts to the environment. And those not affected might not understand, but that doesn’t mean they can’t listen.
Look, that being said, it’s important to mention that even school bullies can grow up to become great people.
Some of the boys who used to circle me in the playground have since matured into wonderful, kind, emotionally generous men. But that’s precisely the point. “Maturing” shouldn’t have to involve the lightbulb realisation that you don’t kick down other people for being different. That realisation should come hand-in-hand with learning basic math and how to tie your own shoelaces. Maturing should be about the good stuff: taxes and minimum wage and renting your first dirty, over-priced room in a creaky inner-city share-house and learning that sex is weird and longterm relationships take both work and compromise, none of which you were adequately forewarned of in high-school.
Bullying continues to exist in adulthood only because it’s tolerated in youth. That’s the reality – but it’s exciting that we have the chance to change it. It’s exciting that we have programs like Safe Schools (subject to its own predictable round of hawk-eyed bullies) and films like Gayby Baby (ditto) and days like Wear It Purple (ditto again). Why? Because they present opportunities to impart on children what parts of society are only just figuring out. And it’s pretty basic stuff.
That every child is born different and we all need to respect the hell out of that.
So yeah, the ludicrous petition against Safe Schools should be taken not with community outrage, but with sincere concern at the grown-up bullies still amongst us in our media and government; those hell-bent on spreading lies and hateful rhetoric.
And every child SHOULD wear it purple this Friday, to make a statement, to break the cycle – but most importantly, to ensure their kids don’t have to.