Andrea Houston on Day of Pink

My International Day of Pink began high up in the office towers of Toronto’s financial power players at RBC and ended with an entire gymnasium of elementary school students unanimously pledging to be LGBTQ allies.

The staff at RBC, almost everyone wearing pink, welcomed me with big smiles and a slice of pink chocolate cake. On the phone were staff at RBC offices in Trinidad, Bahamas, London and Montreal.

I told them about the history of International Day of Pink, the now legendary story about the students in Nova Scotia who saw a younger student being harassed for wearing pink and stepped in. That incredibly powerful action sent a message that resonated across Canada. Those two students encouraged the whole school to wear pink in solidarity. The bullies at that school found themselves outnumbered, surrounded by students in pink. Bullies can’t bully everyone. It was nothing short of poetic justice.

I told the exact same story to the Grades 4 to 6 students at Givins/Shaw PS, albeit with more colour and interactive flourishes tailored for a younger audience. But I ended both with the same question. Why was the student attacked in the first place? The elementary school students got the answer first.

“The bullies assumed that since he wore pink he must be gay.” Bingo.

The students at Givins/Shaw PS were way ahead of me. They saw the homophobia immediately. So I throw out some questions, ‘How many of you know someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans’? Almost everyone put their hand up. ‘How many know a friend or family member who is gay’? Many hands stayed up. ‘Who considers themselves an LGBT ally’? No hands went up. I got nervous, then a young girl at the back asked, “What’s an ally?” After a definition of the word every single hand went up. My heart burst.

At RBC I wrapped up my talk with a call to action. I called on the executives to continue being such fantastic allies to the LGBT community by using their enormous economic and political power to help end bullying and discrimination outside the office walls, particularly those listening on speakerphone, in Trinidad and the Bahamas – two countries where it is still a criminal offence to be gay and LGBT people live in constant fear of violence. Even if it’s just for the gay and lesbian RBC employees who live in those countries.

Sadly and frustratingly, there are still about 80 countries in the world where it is still a criminal offence to be gay, and of those countries, about half a dozen you will face the death penalty. Everyone deserves to live in safety and dignity. On Pink Day and every day.