Spirit Day was commemorated last Thursday with a reception at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Georgetown where the problem of bullying in schools was highlighted.
The event was hosted by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association’s (GRPA) Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) with support from the British High Commission in Guyana as part of their activities this October to mark Bullying Prevention Month.
According to a SASOD press release, the keynote address was delivered by Principal of the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), Viola Rowe in which she highlighted the challenges faced by students who experience bullying on a constant basis in the country’s schools and called for urgent action to curb the problem in the nation’s schools.
Rowe also appealed to all stakeholders including school partners and corporate society, to “act now in observance of Spirit Day 2018 to make commitments to join the fight to stop bullying against LGBTQ persons and by extension, those who are targets because of their race, ethnicity, gender, physical appearance, financial status, religious persuasion, or intellectually ability,” the release added.
The CPCE principal also emphasised that schools have a legal and moral obligation to ensure that learners are exposed to safe learning spaces, adding that bullying must be curbed at its roots to ensure that the learning environment is safe for everyone, including teachers. She explained to the gathering that the impact of bullying on academic performance continues to become progressively negative because of the stress and mental distress caused. Rowe insisted that bullying, especially against minorities is an issue to be brought to the top of the list of social school issues, requiring urgent attention as access to education is fundamental for the youth of Guyana. She added that bullying is a threat to public health as it has major negative effects on persons’ mental and physical health, resulting especially in depression, anxiety, distress and ultimately, suicide. She assured the audience that CPCE is adamant in its promotion of love, care, respect, tolerance and cohabitation.
British High Commissioner Greg Quinn in his remarks stated that he has been dismayed by some of the “provocative and downright inaccurate comments” made about LGBTQ people. Quinn stated that there is no excuse for such ill-informed commentary and it cannot be dressed up as free speech as free speech does not mean licence to incite hate and violence. Quinn urged the audience to not be dismayed by the ill-informed abuse and violence but to stand up for equal rights and ensure that no one faces persecution because of who they are or who they love.
As part of the programme, SASOD and YAM launched an essay writing competition for students in Grades Seven to Nine enrolled in any secondary school in Guyana. The topic for the essay is “There should be effective policies and redress mechanisms to curb all forms of bullying and discrimination against students and teachers in Guyana’s schools.” Students in Grades Seven to Nine are encouraged to contact SASOD or YAM for details of the rules and prizes of the competition and submit their essays by the November 16, 2018, deadline.
Spirit Day is an annual LGBTQ awareness day observed on the third Thursday in October. Started in 2010 by Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan, it was initially created in response to a rash of widely publicised bullying-related suicides of gay school students in 2010. The name “Spirit Day” comes from the purple stripe of the Rainbow flag, whose creator Gilbert Baker defined it as representing ‘spirit’.