COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — On Thursday, people worldwide celebrated “Spirit Day” to acknowledge the bullying and harassment the LGBTQ+ community face — particularly LGBTQ+ youth.
Spirit Day is celebrated every third Thursday in October. It started in 2010 by GLAAD to raise awareness for high rates of suicide among LGBTQ+ teens, said Densil Porteous, executive director of Stonewall Columbus.
Porteous said there’s been greater acknowledgment of the bullying and harassment affecting the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s still a pervasive problem.
“It’s incredibly important for us to make space for identities, various identities in our community,” Porteous said.
Porteous said this year, Spirit Day takes an even bigger meaning as there have been seven bills moving through the statehouse that target LGBTQ+ youth.
“I think this year, more so than average, is important for us to realize and recognize that there’s a direct attack on our community, and that young people aren’t feeling safe,” Porteous said. “And as adults, we need to remember what it was like to be young people and wanting to find space and community that uplifted us and told us that we were welcome and included.”
The FBI released new statistics on Thursday showing hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people grew by 19% in 2022. Porteous doesn’t necessarily think more hate crimes occurring — but rather people are more willing to report those incidents.
“I think to myself, you know, what is it like for a kid that’s in small town in Ohio right now,” said Brayton Bollenbacher, the artistic director for the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.
Bollenbacher said the group is made up of all kinds of people and they take pride in being proof and role models that LGBTQ+ people can thrive.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have role models,” Bollenbacher said. “It’s important that youth are able to see that you can go out and have a very fulfilling and real and rewarding, enriching life as an LGBTQ person.”
Both leaders said on Spirit Day, they hope people wear purple to show support and take a moment to recognize everyone has the right to be their true self.
“It’s really about the visibility and being able to be recognized out there so that everybody can get an understanding that that there are so many LGBTQ+ people across not only the United States, but the world,” Bollenbacher said. “And for them to be able to feel safe and to feel like they have a community that they can call their own.”
The Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus will perform Saturday and Sunday at the Riffe Center. They are offering free tickets for youth to attend.