We observed Pink Day at my school last Wednesday. I was honoured to speak at the assembly. Here’s the speech:
It’s good to see everyone in the pink.
If you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or queer, (or even heterosexual), our school is proud of the diversity of its community. It not only tolerates diversity and difference, it accepts it, and hopefully, we are moving in the direction of celebrating it.
I want you to think about yourself for a minute. If a bully were to target you, what would they pick on? It might be something physical- like the colour of your shirt, or skin colour, or hair style, or physical size, or gender. It might be something unseen- like sexuality, or religion, or some amazing talent you have, like playing piano, or being an elite athlete. If something sets you apart, that’s all it takes to be noticed or labeled as different.
We live in a great place (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and go to a great school. Our rights are enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code- that there can be no discrimination based on race, gender, colour, religion, sexual orientation, ability… the list goes on. So there should be no bullying at our school, right?
Bullying by discrimination these days is subtle. Bullies go after people who don’t conform. These are people who refuse to cover who they are.
It’s a sociological term: covering– minimizing some fundamental aspect of yourself so that it doesn’t get noticed- so you can get by a little easier in mainstream society. It simplifies things. You don’t stand out quite so much.
Yale Law Professor Kenji Yoshino has written about this phenomenon in his book “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights”. In it, he talks about his own life as a Japanese-American and as a gay man, covering both aspects- minimizing so he could get ahead.
The book is not just memoir. Wearing his law professor hat, Yoshino details case after case of civil rights abuses where people sued their employer for wrongful dismissal based on prejudice- and every case lost. They didn’t work hard enough at covering- at fitting in by downplaying their differences.
It shouldn’t be this way. But to a great extent, it still is.
Some day it won’t be. Equality and acceptance will exist, and no one will have to remind anyone about respect because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion. We won’t have to put the word “rights” after any of these words. The only word you will ever have to put in front of “rights” is the word “human”. And to quote Martin Luther King, we will truly judge people only by the content of their character.
Until that time comes, we need to pay daily and special attention to the way we treat one another, how we talk to each other, and about each other.
If you hear the word faggot, call them on it. If you hear the phrase that’s so gay, call them on it. If you don’t know what to say, tell someone, especially faculty. There are allies in the room.
In your classes- why not ask- how many people cover? I bet almost everyone will say they do. Then we can discuss why we all do it, what can be done to do it less, and also why it is still, unfortunately, necessary.
As much as possible, be the whole person you are. Don’t cover or minimize yourself just to fit in. Don’t give into some limiting label or category someone has put on you. Everyone here is far more complicated and deserves more respect than that.
Respect yourself. Respect others.