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Pink Shirt Day: Raising awareness about bullying in Canada

February 13, 2024, 11:00 a.m. (EST)

The last Wednesday of February each year is Pink Shirt Day in Canada. Pink Shirt Day, also known as Anti-Bullying Day, raises awareness about bullying in schools, workplaces, at home and online.

The initiative started here in Canada in 2007, when 12th-grade students in Cambridge, Nova Scotia, bought and distributed 50 pink shirts after a fellow student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt. Since then, the Pink Shirt Day initiative, lead by the CKNW Kids’ Fund, raises funds to support anti-bullying programs year-round, and people from over 180 countries across the world show their support on Pink Shirt Day each year.

This year, February 28 marks the 18th annual Pink Shirt Day. In honour of the occasion, we’ve gathered some stats about bullying in Canada.

Sexually and gender diverse youth are more likely to be the target of bullying

Bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance; it is behaviour that makes the person being bullied feel afraid, alone or uncomfortable. This can include such behaviours as being teased, insulted or excluded.

The risk of being teased, insulted or excluded was heightened among sexually and gender diverse youth, which includes those who are transgender, non-binary and/or have same-gender attraction, compared with cisgender youth attracted exclusively to a different gender.

According to data from the Canadian Health Survey of Children and Youth from 2019, 77% of sexually and gender diverse youth had been the target of bullying in the previous year, a higher proportion than that of cisgender youth who are attracted exclusively to a different gender (69%).

Sexually and gender diverse youth are more likely to have frequently experienced multiple forms of bullying

There are many different types of bullying; ranging from being made fun of, to having one’s property destroyed, to cyberbullying-type measures such as having hurtful information posted on the Internet.

Among the 10 different types of bullying that were assessed in 2019, the most commonly reported form of bullying for all youth aged 15 to 17 years was being made fun of or insulted by others (59%). Experiencing any 1 of these 10 types of bullying at any frequency was reported by just under three-quarters (70%) of all youth aged 15 to 17 years. However, a larger share of transgender, non-binary, and youth with at least some same-gender attraction (77%) reported such experiences compared with exclusively different-gender attracted cisgender youth (69%).

Similar to multiple types of bullying, experiencing frequent repeated episodes of bullying is typically more harmful than occasional incidents. Sexually and gender diverse youth were significantly more likely than cisgender youth to frequently experience multiple types of bullying. In 2019, 10% of transgender, non-binary, and youth with same-gender attraction experienced two or more incidents of bullying on a weekly or daily basis compared with 6% of youth with exclusive different-gender attraction. 

Bullying can have impacts on both mental and physical health

Bullying is often associated with negative health and well-being outcomes. Among youth who reported experiencing at least one type of bullying monthly or more frequently in 2019, almost three in four (72%) said their lives were stressful (a bit stressful, quite a bit stressful or extremely stressful). By comparison, 59% of those who experienced bullying a few times a year and 44% of those who did not experience bullying indicated that their lives were stressful.

Youth who experienced bullying frequently (monthly or more) were also more likely than those who did not experience bullying in the past 12 months to report experiencing frequent (monthly or more) difficulties in getting to sleep (73% compared with 41%), headaches (70% compared with 42%), stomach aches (60% compared with 31%) or backaches (56% compared with 27%).

The full study, entitled Bullying victimization among sexually and gender diverse youth in Canada, provides further analysis of the prevalence and health impacts of bullying among sexually and gender diverse youth in Canada.

On Pink Shirt Day—and every day—we can all do our part to help prevent bullying by treating each other with kindness.

For information on how to recognize and prevent bullying, and to learn about bullying prevention programs, click here.

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