Purple Letter Campaign: More letters wanted to request anti-homophobia policy in B.C. schools
In one letter, a bisexual woman says that her closeted bisexual friends fear being disowned. In another letter, a former bully, now a cross-dresser, confesses to previously harassing other students due to insecurity issues. Another letter-writer talks about being physically harassed and called names like "fag, gay, queer, Paki, Hindu".
The letters are being collected by the Purple Letter Campaign, organized by local activists Kaitlin Burnett and Ryan Clayton. They're asking citizens to write letters to ask the premier and minister of education to implement a provincial sexual orientation and gender identity policy in schools.
Clayton, a lifeguard who also presents talks to schools and organizations about bullying and homophobia, organized the Vancouver Vigil to End Homophobic Bullying at Emery Barnes Park on October 20 last year on Wear Purple Day.
"This year, I wanted to do something that had more impact, like something that was really make-it-better kind of thing," Clayton tells the Straight at a Dunbar coffee shop. "The goal of the vigil was originally to bring everyone together. We had speakers from different community organizations that really work to help make things better for youth. And so, it was a way to connect everyone to these organizations…. This year, I felt like there was something more I could do, as opposed to showing everyone the way to programs. I really just wanted to do something tangible, powerful, different."
Burnett and Clayton will present the letters to the B.C. government on October 20. (What type of event it will be presented at is still being determined.)
Clayton says he came up with the idea after hearing about a similar writing campaign in New Zealand. When he realized that his idea was too ambitious for him to undertake alone, he approached Burnett for help.
Kaitlin Burnett is a co-organizer of the Purple Letter Campaign. (Kaitlin Burnett photo.)
Burnett, a University of Victoria grad student from Burnaby, had organized the Wave of Pink rally at the Burnaby School Board on June 14, the day that anti-homophobia policy 5.45 was ratified. Burnaby became the 14th school district in B.C. to approve an anti-homophobia policy. But Burnett says this is a provincial issue, not one just for civic school boards.
"Youth very rarely get to choose what school district they're going to school in," Burnett says by phone. "More often than not, it's based on where their parents live, where their parents work. And I don't think that going to a safe school—a safe, inclusive, welcoming school—should be dependent on what city you happen to live in. That's something that should be the right for every child in this province."
Burnett says that the campaign has been endorsed by a number of organizations, including the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, UBC Pride, University of Victoria Students' Society, UVic Pride, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Camosun Pride, and more.
Clayton adds that they've also received encouragement and support "from all sides of the political spectrum", including politicians such as Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes, NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, COPE councilor Ellen Woodsworth, and BC Liberal MLA Linda Reid (Richmond East).
Some letter-writers have even sent copies of their letters to be published on the Purple Letter Campaign website.
"Some of the letters have really touched me, really moved me, and provided a very stark reminder about why we're doing this," Burnett says. "Some of the letters are not easy to read, but they're all very powerful, and I'm very grateful for every single one that we've received."
One of the most moving letters was submitted by local author Mette Bach. She relates a story about one of her Korean ESL students who went to great lengths to hide evidence of being physically attacked by homophobic fellow students. Clayton, who had his own experiences being bullied while growing up in Salmon Arm, says that letter was one that he "bawled at, absolutely in tears, crying". He adds that the letters "have brought up every emotion at one point or another".
Burnett, a University of Victoria grad student, says they've received a vast range of stories, reflecting an array of experiences with discrimination. "We've received letters from people who feel very alone, who feel like they don't have anyone to turn to. We've also received letters from people who've been beaten up, received death threats, from people who've been disowned by their families, kicked out onto the streets. We've received letters from people who have been alienated from their culture and their religion just because of who they are.
"And in some ways, those are the hardest to read," she adds. "Because we never want that. We never want to see members of our community alienated from their background, from their family, from their support structures, just because of who they are."
Burnett also emphasizes that they're not trying to change anyone's religion or culture. "We're simply trying to find a way to make sure that everyone can be accepted and everyone can feel safe in society," she says.
Clayton points out that an anti-homophobia policy would help to protect all youth, including those who are straight. "A lot of people get bullied, and quite seriously. We're trying to bring this in to protect everyone's kids."
He's also aware of what the opponents of such policies are afraid of. "Some people are worried that if a policy comes in, it's really, really hands-on, that it'll trample on religious rights or parents' rights and a good policy won't do that."
When the Straight asks Burnett what she would most like to say to those who are afraid of such a policy being introduced, she says that she'd like them to know that they're not trying to recruit their children. "Really, that is not one of our goals," she says. "What we want to do is make sure that there is a safe and welcoming and inclusive community if their children turn out to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer. We're not trying to turn them that way. But if they come out, we want there to be a safe space for them, a safe and welcoming and inclusive community. A lot of us, I think, want what the youth to have what we didn't have when we came out."
Clayton says that they're still in need of many more letters. The October 20 deadline is fast approaching so if you want to submit a letter, or have been procrastinating about doing so, it's time to start writing.
You can send a letter in two ways. You can drop it off at a Purple Mailbox in Burnaby, Nelson, New Westminster, Prince George, Richmond, Salmon Arm, Vancouver, or Victoria (visit the Purple Letter Campaign website for specific location information). Alternately, you can mail it in directly (it's important to factor in enough time for mail delivery.)
If you're interested in sharing your story with the rest of the world or to inspire others, you can also email a copy of your letter to the organizers so that it can also be published on the Purple Letter Campaign blog. (Instructions on how to do that are available at the website).
Burnett points out that you don't necessarily have to tell a story in order to write a letter. "Every single story makes a difference. Even people who don't have personal experience with homophobia or transphobia—you know they may have never experienced it personally or they may have never witnessed it—if they think that we need to make sure that our schools and our community are safe and inclusive for everyone, they should send us a letter. Because that's all we're trying to do…. It's for everyone who's trying to make it better for people to be safe from discrimination and oppression."