Early Fall, 2010. The queer community was in the midst of crisis, being rocked by a recent rash of suicides committed by young queer kids, victims of anti-queer bullying. On Tumblr, us in the LGBTQ+ community were following each new heart-wrenching report and their saddening details, each life lost, with heavier and heavier hearts. Misery, hopelessness, turmoil, and fear were settling in. It seemed as if each time someone made a post saying “Remember Tyler Clementi, Remember Raymond Chase,” cruelly, unfairly, there was yet another name to add to the list. There was fear at how not only we were dying, but how little people seemed to care at all, or connected the dots between each of these incidents.
Then in came Brittany McMillan, a young Tumblr user who heard and saw the reports and felt the need to step up and speak to them. She came up with the idea of getting together to wear purple, the color representing “Spirit” on the Pride flag, in remembrance and support of those queer teens who have committed or struggle with suicide due to anti-queer bullying, harassment, and alienation. The day picked was October 20th. Eager to do something visible and positive and productive with our grief and rage, we latched onto the wonderful idea and spread the word like wildfire.
So when the 20th came, we proudly posted our purpled selfies, our purpled signs of solidarity and love and support, our purpled layouts, our purpled art and media, our purpled poems, our spirits out in full. My dash was nothing but purple as far as the hand could scroll. We showed love and support for each other. Each time I saw the purple, my heart swelled with pride and joy about what I was a part of creating, and what we were observing and remembering. From the hurt and the suffering came so much good, so much light, so much love. We also fielded all types of hateful, dismissive nonsense endlessly in reblogs, in our inboxes, and with memes. Everything from “But what about other victims of bullying?!” and “Equality means we shouldn’t even talk about gay bullying!” was carelessly leveled our way, but we clapped back.
I even made a handy-dandy “Spirit Day Bingo” board.
(In retrospect, it’s missing a row and it could be more inclusive, but it resonated with a lot of folks on Tumblr nonetheless and got a lot of shares and helped as a shorthand to combat the dismissal and bigotry we were hearing about this day of remembrance and solidarity.)
Eventually, the movement got big enough that Tumblr changed its color from the deep blue to purple for the day. It went viral, and went to officially being observed on the 16th of October every year. It warms my heart to see how big it has gotten; a thing that a young girl started on a young blogging platform becoming nationally recognized is pretty amazing and powerful.
Now, as we go into the fourth year of Spirit Day, we have to keep in mind that this should be more than just kind, reaffirming platitudes that make it seem like queer suicide is solely about queer youths’ own sense of worth or mental health and a need for love, though that is a very important aspect of it. It is about how a cissexist, heterocentric, binarist patriarchal culture diminishes those things and pushes our youth to that extreme point of hurt and self-hate, and leaves them without many options. There was an infographic I shared on Tumblr at the time of the first Spirit Day, and it said “There are no queer teen suicides, only queer teen murders,” and it felt true. We — whether in our hatred, ignorance and bigotry, innocent or not; or in our compliance or ignorance towards these systems that undermine our youth, driving them from their family, friends, homes, farther from themselves, into the streets, to the brink — are slowly killing them.
We have to, then, show them we want them to live. We need to advocate and fight for justice and for resources and for safety for our youth. We have to give them strength and support and love and guidance. We have to care about the lack of access to mental health and homelessness resources for them, especially those who are working class, trans, and/or of color. We have to care about transphobic school policies that infringe on students’ identities and rights, facilitate violence against them, and drive them further away from their peers and community. We have to care about patriarchal norms and dynamics and language and how gender, sexuality, and sexual dynamics even at a very young age in grade school reinforces and starts a lot of toxic habits that can manifest dangerously later in teen years. We have to say “You, love, have spirit like nothing and no one else, and it is so beautiful. And so, I will stand behind you, with you, even when you don’t feel like you can get up.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact:
- The Trevor Helpline (For homosexuality questions or problems): 1-800-850-8078
- Gay & Lesbian National Support: 1-888-THE-GLNH (1-888-843-4564)
- Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Youth Support Line: 1-800-850-8078
For Homeless/At Risk Youth:
- National Runaway Switchboard: 1-800-RUNAWAY (A national, toll-free hotline for runaway and homeless youth, teens in crisis and concerned family/friends. Completely confidential.)
- A pretty cool Masterlist of inclusive resources for youths of color
I didn’t know about the origins of Spirit Day, so thank you for telling the story, Briana!
This made me cry. Thank you so much for this brilliant piece Briana.
thank you for this! it’s inspiring and so important.
Also, I just wanted to add, the trevor lifeline is available for so much more than just homosexuality questions or problems… it’s open to any youth in crisis: gay, straight, trans*, queer, questioning. And the counselors are trained to handle all kinds of stuff from bullying to home troubles, gay questions etc. It’s a great resource. I’m so glad you thought to include resources at the end!
I completely missed this Spirit Day thing when it started and pretty much didn’t encounter it and know what it was until now. The probable reason as to why is rather ironic.
Around that time I think was when I was crawling my way out of a suicidal, guilt of being alive, sleep deprived because something was going to come for me but I didn’t know what haze oblivious to everything that wasn’t me or something putting pressure on me.
What could I do for next year’s Spirit Day other than get a purple shirt and struggle to not stew in a sort of survivors’ guilt?
I’m so glad you’re here!
Have you considered volunteering with young queer people? I’ve been doing that for the last year and it’s been so rewarding. Not sure if you’re in a good place for that, but I thought I’d throw it out there!
Survival is such an intense and commendable feat in and of itself. Celebrating that you lived beyond that time in your life, even if it is a struggle rife with conflict, and maybe even sharing and relating with others, would be a really cool way to observe Spirit Day in my opinion. Thank you for sharing your story. :]
I always find the need to add Australian hotline numbers:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Qlife (for LGBTQI+ folks of all ages): 1 800 184 527 or online at https://www.qlife.org.au
Wear it Purple Day in September is the equivalent over here. I always participate. I was badly bullied as a child, and even now at 32 I feel the ripples. Anything I can do to stand up for other kids… Even if just one young person sees me on the train or Instagram and knows they’re not alone, and that’s enough for me.