Pink Shirt Day

Authored by Tin Vo, Katie Cook, Charlie Davis, Lauren Munro, & Michael Woodford

Words have meaning. As they are repeated, they become real. Words such as ‘dyke’ and ‘faggot’ and phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ are used to ridicule and demean Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and other gender and/or sexually diverse (2SLGBTQ+) people. Heard enough, such words and the negative messages they convey become the norm. And when the norm on a campus or a school yard is to be okay with such bullying, or to be complicit in it, we have failed our youth and emerging adults, signalling to them that this hostility is to be expected.

Discrimination can take the form of blatant victimization, such as physical and verbal abuse, subtle microaggressions, as well as systemic barriers a minoritized group faces accessing services and resources. Microaggressions include comments and actions a person might not consciously intend as insults or invalidations, but they are experienced as such and can be damaging to the receiver. Discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation have been found to have a profound negative impact on 2SLGBTQ+ students, including poor academic and mental health outcomes.

The pink shirt symbolizes the need to work toward acceptance, respect, and inclusion for everyone, no matter who they are, or who they love.  

For example, the study Expériences des étudiant.e.s LGBTQ+ post-secondaires au Canada found that 2SLGBTQ+ post-secondary school students across Canada experienced greater victimization and felt less safe than cisgender straight students did, and these experiences were associated with lower academic performance and negative mental health outcomes, including higher rates of attempted suicide and depression. Trans students reported more victimization experiences and felt less safe compared to their cisgender LGBQ counterparts. Locally, as part of the OutLook Study conducted with 2SLGBTQ+ people in Waterloo Region, researchers found that among 2SLGBTQ+ high school and post-secondary students, the greater the victimization trans students experienced the lower their self-esteem, whereas this relationship was not found for cisgender LGBQ students. However, the self-esteem of both groups was negatively affected by experiencing more indirect homophobia and transphobia, such as hearing the microaggression that being LGBQ or trans is abnormal. These studies are just two of many indicating that homophobia and transphobia can have negative consequences for 2SLGBTQ+ students.

Pink Shirt Day celebrates diversity and calls on us to take a strong stance against bullying. There are many ways to challenge homophobia and transphobia and to create welcoming environments for 2SLGBTQ+ students. Schools and universities need to foster a culture of inclusion that celebrates and values gender and sexual diversity. This includes removing systemic barriers 2SLGBTQ+ students face and supporting policies, services, and practices that are responsive to their diverse identities, experiences, and needs. It is important that antidiscrimination policies and procedures are in place, and a culture of intervention exists when discrimination occurs. Laurier has such policies and procedures, but do you know they exist? Laurier’s Bystander Training covers these policies and helps participants understand how to intervene when discrimination occurs. Laurier faculty, staff and students can take part in the training online via MyLearningSpace. When bullying happens, it is critical to act and not remain silent.

It is also important to raise the visibility and voices of 2SLGBTQ+ people, especially those of Two-Spirit people and those who hold multiple marginalized identities based on their race, disability, religion, and class (to name a few). Representation matters. Being reflected in curriculum, campus life, among staff and faculty rosters, marketing strategies, and so forth, helps signal to 2SLGBTQ+ people that they are welcomed and belong. It is essential that our climate be one of belonging and inclusion. What are we doing as a university community to foster inclusion in our classrooms, hallways, and residences? What can you do?

Pink Shirt Day celebrates diversity and calls on us to take a strong stance against bullying. There are many ways to challenge homophobia and transphobia and to create welcoming environments for 2SLGBTQ+ students.  

Consider participating in 2SLGBTQ+ awareness events (check out Dr. Percy Lezard’s moderated discussion about 2SLGBTQQIA+ identity), training programs, and community pride events. Reflect on your attitudes and the language you use – are you perpetuating microaggressions? Do you use a person’s correct pronouns? Do you just assume everyone is straight or cisgender? How might you support and advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ spaces, services, and facilities on campus and beyond? If you are an instructor, do you include the perspectives of diverse 2SLGBTQ+ scholars in course readings? Do you address 2SLGBTQ+ topics from a strengths- or deficits-perspective?

Pink Shirt Day reminds everyone that our community values equity, diversity, and inclusion. This means we need to put the work into cultivating a campus where those who have been historically marginalized feel welcome and cared for. The pink shirt symbolizes the need to work toward acceptance, respect, and inclusion for everyone, no matter who they are, or who they love. Our schools and communities must find ways to step up and stand against bullying – otherwise, who will? Whether you’re wearing a pink shirt today or not, as a member of this vibrant campus community, we hope you’ll do your part to challenge bullying and discrimination against 2SLGBTQ+ people.

The Authors

The authors are all part of the Thriving On Campus research team. Thriving is a province-wide 2SLGBTQ+ campus climate study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Tin Vo (he/they) holds a PhD in Social Work from Laurier. His research takes an equity lens to examine social exclusion as a determinant of health for diverse 2SLGBTQ+ people in 2SLGBTQ+ spaces, raising concerns around cisgenderism, racism, ableism, and other systems of oppression.

Katie Cook (they/them) holds a PhD in Community Psychology from Laurier. Katie’s work uses feminist affect theory to examine how marginalized—e.g., disabled, racialized, fat, queer, trans—bodies are constructed and othered in various social contexts.

Charlie Davis (he/they) is a PhD candidate in Community Psychology at Laurier. His research examines how Canadian policies have historically been utilized to supress or uphold trans human rights.

Lauren Munro (she/her) is a PhD candidate in Community Psychology at Laurier as well as a limited term faculty member in the School of Disability Studies at X University. In much of her work, Lauren challenges the idea of there being an ideal body/mind and explores the ways various forms of oppression are woven into systems and structures.

Michael Woodford (he/him) is a Professor of Social Work at Laurier and the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Social Work’s PhD Program. Michael’s research investigates the inclusion/exclusion, wellbeing, and resilience of 2SLGBTQ+ people, including examining the nature and effects of microaggressions and campus climate. He is the Principal Investigator for Thriving on Campus.