The gymnasium at Forest Hill Collegiate was a sea of pink as students, officers, faculty and community members came together to celebrate the Day of Pink on April 8.
“We are here to show support for our peers and for equality,” said grade 11 student Joey Tepperman, who was up at 7 a.m. to help decorate the gym with the rest of the Student Council.
LGBTQ Liaison Officer Constable Danielle Bottineau said this was the third year the Service had been involved in celebrating the day at a school in Toronto.
“We all need to take a stance against homophobic and transphobic bullying,” said the officer. “The message here is that, together, we can make it better.”
The Day of Pink originated in Nova Scotia when two students saw a boy being bullied for wearing a pink shirt. The next day, they handed out 50 pink shirts to students to show support for the boy and stand up against bullying at their school. The day is now celebrated every second Wednesday of April.
In social media, Constable Luke Watson (@pc8430) managed to gain a lot of momentum for #DayofPink on Twitter by spray-dying his hair pink at the event. Crime Prevention Officers Constable Ryan Wilmer (@RyanCP23) managed to get 1,400 retweets for the hair-do with the promise Watson would keep the hairstyle for a week if they got 1,000 retweets.
“When you walk in through the front door you see a sea of pink and the effort that all of you have made and made this school a place where everyone is welcome,” said Chief Bill Blair, acknowledging the work by the students and faculty of the school in creating a safe atmosphere for everyone.
The Chief also acknowledged the courage and leadership demonstrated by out LGBTQ officers in the Service.
“I would tell you that, in policing and in the city of Toronto in the past several decades, it wasn’t always easy (to be out) and for them to come forward in our organization… has transformed us. It has made us better, more compassionate and more confident to serve the diverse people of the city of Toronto,” said the Chief.
For Bottineau, those words ring true. She said that, in the last 16 years of being a police officer, she has had hundreds of students come up to her and talk to her for being an openly gay officer.
Similarly for Constable Tad Milmine, from the Calgary Police, the idea of being out professionally wasn’t always an option. But the officer rethought this when he heard about the death of Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley, who committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. That year Milmine started an anti-bullying program.
“You could say I am an officer by day and an anti-bullying(advocate) by night,” said the constable, an RCMP officer for four years who has been with the Calgary Police for the last two.
Bullying can only take place when we lack the courage to intervene, when we stand back as bystanders, when we just let it happen.
Milmine, the keynote speaker at the event, now goes around the country speaking about his personal struggle with depression due to hardships faced early on in life, as well his own dilemma of coming out.
“One of the reasons I didn’t come out was because I was my own worst enemy,” said Milmine, who followed his dream of becoming a police officer. “Once I overcame my own challenges I realized you can do whatever you want.”
While being strong and overcoming personal barriers are a large part of self-acceptance, the support of one’s peers can never be enough. The Chief stressed this while addressing the students at Forest Hill. “Bullying can only take place when we lack the courage to intervene, when we stand back as bystanders, when we just let it happen. You have demonstrated that you will not be bystanders…you have demonstrated your commitment to each other,” said the Chief. “Today, we remember what we stand for. We stand together and we stand strong.”