Last month I attended a Redhead Convention in Ireland. It was an amazing and unusual experience - hundreds of ginger men, women and children gathered in one place and having a great time. It's funny because at the start of the day the children were all horrifically shy and covered their faces whenever anyone tried to take their photo. However, by the end something had changed - there was a look on their faces that said maybe having red hair and looking different could actually be a good thing.
Seeing this transformation reminded me of my own experiences. I was bullied when I was at school. In fact, I was specifically targeted by this one girl who had ginger hair herself, which I still find odd! Whenever the other kids would call me "ginger" it would just shut me up completely. My face would go bright red and I just wanted to crawl up into a ball. My response was to dye my hair as soon as I could. I got blonde highlights when I was 13, and then at 16 I tried to become a brunette. It wasn't until I got to university that I realised that looking different was a positive thing. Everyone was trying to stand out from the crowd and having an unusual hair colour made this easy for me. I ditched the dye and never looked back.
Redheads make up less than 2% of the world's population and once you embrace being in this exclusive club you find an amazing community of people. I think it's something about having red hair that allows you to be slightly more outspoken, a bit more passionate, and to dress more quirkily. This realisation was one reason why we started up Ginger Parrot - a website for redheads. The site has grown in size and offering with news, features and its own store, with the ginger community using our social media platforms to share their experiences - good and bad - and discuss what it's like to be a ginger in today's world. It was one such conversation that triggered our biggest campaign to date - the fight for the ginger emoji! Despite the fact that hundreds of millions of us have natural or dyed red hair, we are unable to use a representative emoji because Apple has never introduced a redheaded male or female face to their selection. Even after the company released an update with 300 'diversified' emoji - following a backlash against the lack of races represented - there was still no space for the gingers. It's just ridiculous.
It's not even that hard to do, as I've been told it would only take some modifier code to create a ginger emoji! I just couldn't believe that not one person at Apple said "oh hang on, what about the redheads?" Are there no redheads that work there? Emoji are one of the most widely used languages around, yet I feel like a fraud using them because they don't look anything like me. It might sound trivial, but nobody likes to feel deliberately left out. I've spoken to many people who genuinely believe Apple has a vendetta against gingers!
The more I thought about it, the more outraged I became. So I decided to start a campaign to force Apple to act. I launched a petition on Change.org and sent out a pretty loud press release to all the big papers. The Guardian called me back, ran the story and then the whole thing spread like wildfire. Recently I saw Jess Glynne, the singer and proud redhead, talking about ginger emoji on MTV, while Olympic athlete Greg Rutherford has become outspoken on Twitter about the lack of red-haired characters. The campaign really seemed to catch the public's imagination, even if some people probably don't take it as seriously as others.
Once our petition reached 15,000 signatures we delivered it to Apple. Nobody from the company ever responded to our emails, messages or meeting requests, so we decided to take the petition straight to their headquarters in California. Again they blanked us, but we've received a lot of coverage in local press so I'd be surprised if they weren't aware of the petition.
So what next? Well, we still haven't heard anything back from Apple, although I like to think they know all about our campaign from the coverage we've generated across the world. But what we are all waiting for is the next emoji update, which could come through at any time. If they decide to listen to the people and finally give us proper emoji representation, then we've won. If they don't, then they should expect to hear from the rather outspoken and increasingly loud ginger community across the world!