As part of Pink Shirt Day, which takes place annually across Canada on Feb. 27, the Skeena Middle School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) group welcomed students to design their own pink shirts to express their thoughts against bullying.
“It’s just a way for them to connect and interact, anti-bullying day is something that all schools support but this is something that’s a little bit extra,” says Vanessa Gill, a resource/art teacher at Skeena Middle School. “It’s kind of nice to belong to something and it’s a message that they all support.”
The GSA group began at the Skeena Middle School four years ago as an initiative to create a safe space for students who may identify or feel differently in regards to gender. Gill says that it’s important for kids to know that this place exists if they need it.
She adds that there are a few students that are part of the GSA that are transgender and currently transitioning, but they still regularly deal with negative reactions from some of their peers.
“It’s kind of shocking… Kids will call them their old name intentionally, in a form of hazing or bullying, and they really struggle with that. It’s hard because they’ve taken the courage to advocate for themselves and people aren’t supporting them.”
By bringing the GSA students together, Gill says that she’s focused on creating connections with them so they feel that they have someone to talk to and to help them understand they’re not alone.
“It makes it easier for them to know that we’re allies in the building… that there are people in the school who support, love and care about their rights,” she says. “I’ve had students come up to me in the hallway after they’ve experienced homophobia and they just want someone to hear it.”
RCMP Cst. Crystal Evelyn made a few visits to schools throughout Terrace to show her support of Pink Shirt Day. She says that she brought the heart-shaped cookies “to show the love” by letting young people know the RCMP are “safe people” they can always come to if they are in need of advice or guidance.
As an officer, she emphasizes that bullying is not tolerable and there is a criminal code that can be enforced. By speaking to young people, she says she hopes that kids take away the importance of being kind to one another and to not get caught up “trying to be cool” by laughing at somebody else’s expense.
“It’s easy to get sucked into that crowd mentality where you’re making fun of people and behaving in a manner that you’re going to regret later,” she says.”We want to make people to think twice before engaging in that behavior.”
For her, she says that she also enjoys hanging out with the students and that it means a lot to be present by showing an interest in their stories, especially since there are times when a person needs protection from themselves as well.
“We want to go out there and help people feel safe, that’s what anti-bullying is about — it’s about sticking up for that person who needs a hand.”