Spirit Day 2020: Celebs, lawmakers, athletes send messages to LGBTQ youth

The anti-LGBTQ bullying campaign started in 2010 and takes place every year on the third Thursday of October.
Sterling K. Brown and Celine Dion promoted Spirit Day on their Twitter accounts.
Sterling K. Brown and Celine Dion promoted Spirit Day on their Twitter accounts.@celinedion, @SterlingKBrown via Twitter

Shortly after Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi died by suicide in 2010, Canadian teen Brittany McMillan decided to do something about it: She created a Facebook event calling on people to wear purple — the “spirit” color of the rainbow pride flag — on the third Thursday of October to show that they stand against anti-LGBTQ bullying.

By the time the first Spirit Day took place Oct. 20, 2010, it was already a worldwide phenomenon.

“Since then, it has evolved into more than just wearing purple, but ‘going purple,’ which is really quite amazing,” McMillan told NBC News in 2016.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy organization, said Spirit Day is particularly important this year, considering the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, the social uprising against racial injustice and the politically divisive environment.

“At a time when LGBTQ youth may be isolating in homes that are not affirming or might not have access to their usual support systems, this year’s Spirit Day is a chance for LGBTQ people and allies to send messages of acceptance and support to LGBTQ youth when they need it most,” Ellis said in a statement Thursday.

Despite increased awareness, bullying remains a stubbornly common experience for LGBTQ youth. According to the 2019 National School Climate Survey published by the LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN, nearly 60 percent of LGBTQ students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and more than a third said they felt unsafe due to their gender identity or expression.

As in past years, celebrities across the U.S. and beyond — from movie stars to sports teams — shared messages of hope and empowerment with LGBTQ youth on Thursday, Spirit Day 2020.

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Cynthia Silva contributed.