My school is Dame Elizabeth Cadbury in Bournville, Birmingham, UK. We like purple. Our school tie is purple. Our school buildings are painted purple. We're just around the corner from the iconic purple of the Cadbury chocolate factory - we can virtually smell the Dairy Milk from our classrooms. But on October 16th 2014 the entire school was steeped in purple to show solidarity with young LGBT people around the world who have experienced homophobic bullying. From purple hats to purple hoodies, this was our Spirit Day, 2014.
Spirit Day was established in 2010 by the American organisation GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), as a means of showing support for LGBT teens who have been bullied. On October 16th each year, Spirit Day turns many American landmarks purple. The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty can be seen bathed in a purple hue. Many famous faces get involved and don something purple: Oprah Winfrey, One Direction and the President of the United States himself, Barack Obama. It is a huge event that shows support, solidarity and compassion for young LGBT people facing prejudice and discrimination around the globe.
The moniker 'Spirit Day' derives from the purple line of the rainbow flag - said to represent identity or 'spirit'. And we have done much at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury to ensure our school community's identity and spirit is nurtured by tackling all forms of prejudice and discrimination head on. Over the last two years we have focused in particular on LGBT equality and identity and, especially, homophobic language and bullying. Our work was recognised by GLAAD and they asked us to participate in Spirit Day 2014. GLAAD even sent us a personal message from Omar Sharif Jr., GLAAD's National Spokesperson, to thank us for our support.
Our school has come a long way. Two years ago when we first started addressing homophobic language, things were very different. It was fairly commonplace to hear the word 'gay' ricocheting off the walls of classrooms and corridors as a synonym for something rubbish or worthless. Some of our pupils felt the sting of the slings and arrows of homophobic comments, language and abuse. Blind eyes were turned. Two years later, and a zero-tolerance approach to homophobic language, combined with teaching our pupils to be 'upstanders' for their LGBT friends and not blind-eyed bystanders to bullying, and with the sun shining on a remarkably warm October day, we flew the rainbow flag at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury for the very first time. It was a hugely proud day for our whole school community and for the city of Birmingham.
We also welcomed Kieron Brady to our Spirit Day celebrations, former professional football player for Sunderland and the Republic of Ireland, and the first UK footballer to become a patron of Gay Pride, joining Peter Tatchell as a patron of Sunderland Gay Pride. Kieron is now a consultant for diversity and a champion of equality. He spoke with passion to our entire school about the importance of challenging homophobia in all aspects of life, preventing hate and ignorance and nurturing kindness for our fellow human beings. Our pupils were enthralled. The memory of those slings and arrows became hazier. Eyes were opened further to the very real possibility of hope and equality.
At the very end of Spirit Day, the entire school emptied onto the playground for a photograph to show our unity for all young LGBT people who have faced bullying, abuse or discrimination. And as our pupils jostled and argued over who would get to hold the rainbow flag, I knew that we had made a difference, and that things would never be the same again.