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Taking a stand . . . Providing a place for everyone to feel welcome and included at the North Otago Youth Centre Skittles group are (clockwise from left) members Koru Parry (17), Nakita Parish (17), James Spivey (18), Blayde Forbes (15), and facilitators Ross Palethorpe and Amanda Acheson. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Today is Pink Shirt Day — but what does that actually mean?

In 2007, a Canadian school pupil was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. The next day, pupils came to school wearing pink shirts, taking a stand against homophobic bullying.

New Zealand has been taking part since 2009, the Mental Health Foundation working to promote making schools, workplaces and communities places where everyone feels safe, valued and respected for who they are, regardless of class, age, gender, sexuality, or race.

North Otago Youth Centre Skittles group facilitator Ross Palethorpe said in recent years Pink Shirt Day had focused more on bullying and less on standing up for the LGBTQIA+ community. But it was slowly returning to its original message.

‘‘If you try and make the message for absolutely everybody, it becomes something for nobody,’’ Mr Palethorpe said.

Pink Shirt Day, and other awareness days, were important to start a conversation, but there needed to be sustained change.

Mr Palethorpe encouraged people to alter the language they used — such as saying caregiver, instead of mother or father, and partner, rather than boyfriend or girlfriend, to make everyone feel included.

‘‘It just means that someone’s put a millisecond of thought into going ‘not everybody is conformed to definition’,’’ he said.

‘‘It really doesn’t have to be anything more than that, and that’s how you enforce structures and changes to make it safer for people.’’

Nobody had the right to make anyone feel inferior because of who they were.

‘‘Don’t assume, because then you’re pushing someone into a position to correct you, and that’s always awkward. We are more than just our sexualities and genders.’’

The Skittles group, a queer› straight alliance group, provided a safe space for young queer people in North Otago to discover who they were and find others they could identify with.

Mr Palethorpe, who also worked as counsellor, moved to Oamaru this year with his partner and family. They were ‘‘pleasantly surprised’’ by how welcomed they had been, but he was aware that was not the same for everyone.

North Otago Youth Centre manager Amanda Acheson said bullying occurred not only in schools, but also in the workplace, community groups, churches, and other associations.

‘‘Pink Shirt Day isn’t just about children dressing up . . .it’s about all of the above saying ‘this is something we recognise and we are going to stand in solidarity’,’’ Mrs Acheson said.

‘‘If we don’t stand beside those who are being bullied, we may as well stand beside the oppressor.’’

The younger generation appeared to be more tolerant than older generations, and more education was required regarding homophobia for the older generation, she said.

Everyone needed to work together to eliminate bullying, and homophobia, to create inclusive and supportive environments.

The Skittles group meets at the North Otago Youth Centre every Monday from 3.30pm to 5pm.