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Lester Alemán Headshot

The Spirit of Friendship

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As Spirit Day approaches, I think it's important to pause and ask ourselves why we wear purple. Started by a teenager -- Brittany McMillan -- in 2010 in response to the rising number of young adults dying by suicide, Spirit Day has become a staple annual event for the LGBT movement -- but above all serves as way for our friends to make a statement of support. Purple is the color that has been chosen to remember the many young adults we have lost as a result of adult ignorance and irresponsibility. To me, the best way to tell young people we support them is to show them our support for each other -- we are all responsible for educating the world's children.

As I pondered on what I wanted to write for this piece, I asked friends on Facebook to submit responses to the following question: why will you wear purple? My good friend Gina, responded with "Me and my 5-year-old son have been wearing purple because bullying comes at any age, gender, race, and in any form. Tolerance needs to be taught in the early stages because kids do not see inequalities until they are taught them by others." Wise words from my favorite nurse in Santa Barbara. Another friend of mine- Alie, a middle school teacher in Seattle- wrote, "I wear purple because demonstrating to my students how to be supportive, empathetic, and tolerant to their fellow human beings is infinitely more important than 'teaching' them the answers to a standardized test."

Gina and Alie represent one of the biggest assets in our movement: allies. And for all intents and purposes, an ally is a friend. Both Gina and Alie are good friends of mine and I'm proud to have them as cheerleaders and active participants of this movement. What's even more special to me is watching two -- of my admittedly many -- best friends going purple. Fred is my former co-worker, former roommate, and current "broski." His first response to me when I asked him to go purple when Spirit Day first launched three years ago was "OK -- help me pick an outfit." Michael -- another BFF of mine -- recently said to me in a text "I wear purple, especially on Spirit Day, to help reinforce the principle that we are all equal and that there are allies everywhere across the world." He later went on to send me selfies so that I could approve his outfit. For Fred and Mike there was no pause, there was no hesitation. What I learned was two-fold: 1) they wanted to tell the world they stood with me and, 2) they take my fashion advice very seriously.

This Thursday marks the 4th year of Spirit Day. Along with the many celebrities, companies and organizations "going purple" to symbolize their support of LGBT youth, we have to also acknowledge our friends that support us politically, socially and most importantly, emotionally. The only way to fight bullying in this world is by making friends. We all need a Fred and Mike, because to be honest, they need us too. I can only hope that I will live to see a world that reflects the strong friendships I have with Gina, Alie, Fred and Mike.

As Alie's middle school students and Gina's 5-year-old son watch adults interacting -- let us ask ourselves what message we send to them when the rights of LGBT people are being debated in political and social forums. Ask your friends to wear purple -- and if necessary, help them pick an outfit because the less we argue and the more we embrace our friendships, the more positive experience our youth will have.

The evidence that the world is changing is in our friendships. I remember names I was called as a child -- bad ones -- by peers in school and at times, by family members. I remember feeling voiceless and disempowered. I remember hating middle school for these reasons. Our standing together will prevent young people to ever feel that way again. Gina's parenting and Alie's teaching are examples of how we can empower young adults to embrace their identities and find their true friends.

Spirit Day is more than just purple. It's an opportunity for us to tell everyone there are friends that care about and love each other in this movement. This Thursday, we tell the world that we simply won't tolerate those that don't want to love us. This Thursday, we wear purple.

For more information on being a friend and supporting Spirit Day, please visit here.