Spirit Day Recap with Brittany McMillan

Looking back on Spirit Day 2011 a week later, we are able to get a better view of its incredible success. We had far more participants than last year in the worlds of business, media and entertainment, but speaking from my own personal experience, it was just as gratifying to see five or six people in my subway car wearing purple as it was to see celebrities, sports leagues or event the White House going purple. We were also very thankful to see the originator of Spirit Day, Brittany McMillan, getting the media attention she deserves. We asked Brittany some questions a few weeks before Spirit Day and wanted to check in with her again now that we're all thinking about Spirit Day 2012.

What did you do at your school for Spirit Day?

At my school, we e-mailed an ‘It Gets Better’ video link to all of the teachers in the school and asked them to watch the video in their classrooms. At lunch time, I and an anti-bullying group at my school called Stand Strong, tied purple ribbons on peoples’ arms, did face paint and sprayed temporary purple hair dye in peoples’ hair. We also did a flash mob (the electric slide to Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’) in the cafeteria. Depending on what teacher you had, students may have also had a discussion on bullying after the video. In my Comparative Civilizations class, we looked at some quotes expressing the inequality between straight and gay communities. And afterward, we spent the entire class discussing bullying, its effects and what you should do to stop it.

How did your personal experience this Spirit Day compare to last year’s?

This year was really cool because of all the things we did in my school. Last year, everyone just wore purple and that was it, but this year, more people helped out and got involved, and we got to do cool things to promote it. Also, this year I had a Twitter account so it was cool to be able to see celebrities and other people around the world tweeting about Spirit Day. I got to see tons of pictures of people decked out in purple and even got tweeted by a few organizations and celebrities which was super cool.

What about overall? How did you think the second annual Spirit Day matched up to the first?

I had thought it wouldn’t be as big this year, but clearly I was wrong. It wasn’t as big on Tumblr and Facebook as it was last year, but there were definitely just as many people out there who participated. Overall, I think that the message was well-received. I think that Spirit Day helps people to remember that inequality is still out there. Every year we get a little bit further with LGBTQ rights and more people join the cause. For example, I’m a part of my school’s Student Council, and when we were discussing themes for spirit week, one boy suggested having a day to show acceptance for the LGBTQ community, before I had even told them about Spirit Day.

Who was your favorite celebrity or organization that went purple this Spirit Day?

Avan Jogia. I was already a huge fan of him because of his role as Beck on Victorious, but I started to admire him even more when I saw his ‘Straight but Not Narrow’ video a while back. I believe that the SBNN project is great and really influential because (I think) a lot of homophobia comes from straight males, especially in high school. It’s really important for straight teens to see other straight teens supporting the LGBTQ community, so it was really great that Avan Jogia wore purple on Spirit Day and that he was tweeting about it all day. He even tweeted me which was awesome.

Another celebrity who wore purple and made me super excited was Gale Harold. I am a HUGE fan of Queer as Folk, so seeing that Gale wore purple was definitely something that made my day.

What was the most creative way you saw people go purple, either online or in your community this Spirit Day?

I’m not sure if this counts, but a creative way to go purple was by attending a candlelight vigil. There was one in my city that I was unfortunately unable to go to. I heard that about 2500 people attended and they all wore purple and lit candles. They even had speakers and everything!

Another cool thing people did was dye their hair. Hair dye lasts a few weeks at the least, and it’s not a common color, so it is definitely a statement that would lead people to ask questions.

Do you think Spirit Day achieved its purpose this year?

In most places, yes. The message was received and especially in my city. The mayor of Vancouver declared October 20 as ‘Purple Shirt Day’ which made it into the newspaper and local news channel. However, just because Spirit Day was a success, does not mean that it’s over with. I hope people will keep thinking of Spirit Day all throughout the year and remember to stand up against homophobia and anti-gay bullying.

Is there anything you think can be improved for next year?

Something that I’m working on right now with a friend is designing t-shirts. We’re hoping that next year we will be able to raise money on Spirit Day by asking people to order t-shirts. We’ll have to start selling far in advance, but it would be really cool to be able to donate some of the money to a cause that supports LGBTQ people. It’s in the works.

Who do you really want to go purple next year? Who would be the ultimate purple-goer?

I can think of so many people, but I’ll narrow it down to a few who I would really want to wear purple next year. First off: Chris Colfer and Lady Gaga. Both are really huge role models and influences in the LGBTQ community, and they would attract a lot of attention. Also: President Obama. I’m a bit fuzzy on American politics and what is going on in terms of LGBTQ rights in the United States, but I do know that Obama has repealed DADT and that he has said he is in favor of equal rights. If the president of the United States wore purple on Spirit Day, that would be incredible. He’d send a really great message about fairness and equality while also telling his country that bullying is intolerable and unacceptable. It would be amazing.

Obviously people can’t wear purple every day – but what are some other ways you’d encourage people who support LGBT youth to keep the message of Spirit Day going year-round?

One way I try to encourage my peers to support the LGBTQ community is through my social networking sites. When I read an article about a hate crime, I will post it everywhere I can. I also post petitions. I believe that awareness plays a huge role in acceptance and tolerance. If people know about horrible events that are occurring, they are more likely to want to put a stop to them. Social networking is key in the society we live in today.

And as always, another way to support LGBTQ youth is to stop saying “that’s so gay.” I watched a really powerful video the other day that talked about how important it is not to say those kinds of things because even if we don’t mean it that way, it gives people the idea that gay is not okay. Unconsciously, it puts us in the mindset that gay is bad and gay is something we will be ridiculed for, even if we’re not gay ourselves. I really hope people stop using that phrase and encourage others not to as well.

Something else you can do is creating a video. Whether your video is about Spirit Day or the ‘It Gets Better” campaign make a video telling people what you think of inequality and bullying. Videos are really powerful because they allow us to put a face and voice to the person behind the message. And videos can also be shared all around the world.