An interview with #SpiritDay founder Brittany McMillan

In 2010, high schooler Brittany McMillan wrote a social media post encouraging her friends to wear purple in memory of LGBTQ youth who have lost their lives to suicide. The post went viral and, with GLAAD's help, it has grown into the largest, most visible anti-bullying campaign in the world: Spirit Day.

In honor of the 8th annual Spirit Day, we caught up with Brittany about the changes in her life and in Spirit Day since 2010. 

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GLAAD: How has your life changed since 2010, the year you founded Spirit Day? What have you been focusing on?

Brittany: When I started Spirit Day in 2010, I was only halfway through high school. I was struggling a lot with anxiety and depression and my main priority was to just make it through to graduation. Eight years later, a lot has changed. Since I finished high school, I have contributed a chapter to a book, studied abroad twice, and had some really meaningful opportunities to work with at-risk children and youth. Though I still struggle with my mental health from time to time, I’ve mostly been focusing on my dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. Just this past summer, I returned home to Canada after being away for a year. I studied abroad in a small town in the south of Wales called Lampeter. I graduated with a first class Bachelor of Arts (double majoring in Medieval Studies and English literature) and have recently begun my Professional Development Program (PDP) at Simon Fraser University. Upon completion of the program, I will be certified as a teacher. I am excited to start a career where I can hopefully continue to make a difference in the lives of young people.

GLAAD: What did you learn from starting Spirit Day?

Brittany: Spirit Day has taught me so many things, but one of the main lessons I’ve learned is about the power of a single person or a single group of people. When I started Spirit Day, I was just one person, one teenage girl who wanted just a few more people to know about homophobia and the consequences of bullying. Yet every year since its creation, Spirit Day has impacted thousands of people all around the world. That would not be possible without the brave and passionate people who take the time to bring Spirit Day into their communities. Whether it’s a school community or a work place or a faith group, Spirit Day starts with individual people who care enough to want to make a difference. Each year, I am blown away by the support and it really reminds me that there is power in people.

GLAAD: How has the media coverage of anti-bullying changed since the first Spirit Day in 2010?

Brittany: I can’t say this with any authority, but I think there is a lot more awareness of bullying in today’s world compared to 2010. While anti-bullying was certainly discussed in my schools growing up, I don’t think it was as integral to the school environment as it seems to be nowadays. When I go into schools now, there are a lot of posters and projects students have done around the topic of bullying and I hear children talking about it and feeling passionate about treating others kindly. I know bullying still happens, but I think more people are coming to the realization that bullying doesn’t have to be a rite of passage. People are different and they’re good at different things and they speak different languages and wear different outfits and that’s starting to be okay – at least with younger generations. A lot of that has to do with increasing diversity in media and different ways of life becoming the norm.

GLAAD: In our current political climate, how is anti-bullying advocacy especially important?

Brittany: Wow. This is a loaded question and I’m not exactly sure where to begin or how to say what it is I want to say. When I read news articles or follow the latest Twitter trends, I am so deeply saddened to see what is happening in America right now. Every day, there is an overwhelming amount of hateful activity taking place whether it’s regarding race, sexual orientation or gender identity. I’m at a loss when it comes to understanding it all. The Obama administration was such a huge inspiration and I feel like society made so many positive steps forward during those eight years – not just in America but in the whole world. Now, with Trump heading the country, it’s a devastating change and quite honestly, it’s disheartening. It feels like we are stepping backward, losing ground we’ve only just gained. It’s definitely hard. It’s depressing. However, now more than ever, it is so important that we stick by our promises to end bullying and support our friends and family in the LGBTQ+ community, in all communities. We can’t let discrimination slip back into law. We can’t let the government bully civilians. We can’t give up and send the message to our youth that, “oh well, we tried. There’s nothing to be done now.” That’s not being an ally. That’s not being a good human being. It’s time to fight even harder for those we care about. In a world where mental health issues are becoming more and more common, we must ensure that our children don’t get lost in the tragedies occurring in the world today. They must be reminded daily that there are people who care to make kindness a priority.

GLAAD: What can other young people like you do to get involved with Spirit Day?

Brittany: If young people want to get involved in Spirit Day, the best thing they can do is spread the word. For some, that might look like writing a tweet or posting an Instagram photo using the #SpiritDay hashtag. For others, it might look like print out a GLAAD resource kit and hosting a Spirit Day event in their school, workplaces or faith groups. Over the years I’ve been told of purple hat parades, purple hockey tape and songs about anti-bullying. The bottom line is that Spirit Day is really about getting involved in some way, shape or form. From purple pins to purple classrooms, it all counts when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ youth in a visible way. Do what you can to show your peers that you won’t stand for bullying.

About Spirit Day

Each year, millions go purple for GLAAD’s Spirit Day to support LGBTQ youth in a united stand against bullying. Started in 2010 by high school student Brittany McMillan in response to numerous young LGBTQ lives lost to suicide, Spirit Day now draws the participation of celebrities, schools, faith institutions, national landmarks, corporations, media outlets, sports leagues, and advocates around the world, all joining together to stand against bullying and support LGBTQ youth.

As anti-LGBTQ policies, hate crimes, and harassment are on the rise, it is now especially important to let all marginalized youth know they are supported.

This year, Spirit Day is on October 19, 2017. Take the Spirit Day pledge to show LGBTQ youth you've got their backs at Follow @GLAAD on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up to date with #SpiritDay news.