Meet the Face Behind Spirit Day

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I recently had the pleasure of connecting with a wonderful young woman named Brittany McMillan. I am not sure how many actually know this, but Brittany is the founder of Spirit Day for GLAAD. At such a young age she has created this day that goes viral every single year from celebrities to companies to anybody who wants to join and show their support.

If you are on social media, then you see the impact this day has as many come out and share pictures, videos, and posts all day long. People change their profile pictures and GO PURPLE for the day. There are so many innovative ways people choose to participate on this day. There are also events that are held around the world people plan for Spirit Day as well as incredible stories that are shared that will inspire.

Some may be surprised when reading this interview, but I am more than thrilled to bring you a little bit of who Brittany is, why she created Spirit Day, and what her future plans are. Brittany is truly someone who all young adults can and should look up to if you are looking for a role model. This is true for those of any age.

Brittany has brought communities and people together on this day and spreads awareness about LGBT, equality, and suicide awareness.

It all started when she began to work with GLAAD in 2010 as a high school student. She encouraged her friends to wear purpose on a special day in October to remember those young LGBT lives lost to suicide. GLAAD helped Brittany turn Spirit Day into a global phenomenon that inspires millions.

This is how what we know as Spirit Day came to exist! I hope you all enjoy this interview and getting to know Brittany as much as I did.

Q&A with Brittany McMillan: Founder of Spirit Day (GLAAD)

Dana Jacoviello: I am a huge activist and supporter of LGBT and equality. GLAAD happens to be one of the organizations I am a big supporter of, and I am amazed by your work. You have accomplished an amazing feat with being the creator of Spirit Day. Tell me a little about you, what you do, your involvement with GLAAD in creating the concept of Spirit Day?

Brittany McMillan: First of all, thank you so much for the kind words. Second of all: what can I tell you about me? Geez, that’s a loaded question. Um, well my name is Brittany McMillan for starters. I’m 20 years old and in my second year of post-secondary at Douglas College. I’m in the Arts program, most likely doing a double major in Medieval Studies and English. I work as a daycare teacher and administrative assistant and in my spare time, I help coordinate various youth programs on my church district. Also, I am addicted to all things superheroes.

I don’t know a whole lot that I can tell you about GLAAD that you probably don’t already know. They are an incredible organization that works in the media to help promote awareness about LGBTQ issues. They’ve helped people like Jennifer Tyrell, to fight Boy Scouts of America when they wouldn’t let her be a leader based on her sexual orientation. They’ve also helped promote LGBTQ television programming and of course, Spirit Day. They have been absolutely instrumental in the success of Spirit Day since its very first round in 2010. I could not be more grateful for all they have done for me and for Spirit Day itself.

As for Spirit Day, it’s a day to do three things: A.) show support for the LGBTQ community, B.) mourn the lives of LGBTQ teens who have committed suicide due to bullying and C.) pledge to stand up to homophobic bullying and bullying in general. The reason it’s called Spirit Day is because the color purple on the rainbow flag stands for the word “spirit” and Spirit Day is about having the spirit to either stand up against bullying or keep going in times of struggle.

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DJ: I know for me I pull inspiration and motivation from not only those I know, but in everything that surrounds me along with my personal experiences. What inspires and motivates you on a daily basis to keep going even through some of the negativity that surrounds the issue of equality and LGBT rights? Have you ever endured bullying yourself or anybody you know?

BM: I have definitely been bullied though not because of my sexual orientation (I identify as an ally to the LGBTQ community – though I don’t think anyone is 100% straight). I went through a period of about three years in the beginning of high school where I was bullied pretty badly. Combine that with depression and anxiety, and I was a right mess. Having been there, I definitely can understand the way these teens feel. I tried to kill myself three times during the summer going into 9th grade. In fact, I’m pretty sure there was like an entire year where I considered killing myself at least once a day. It’s an absolutely terrible feeling, and so I suppose in a way, that keeps me motivated – that experience. I know what it’s like and I don’t want others to feel that way.

In addition, I’ve gotten a lot better since then and Spirit Day has definitely helped with that. I still have rough days every now and then, but I know that suicide is not the answer. I feel like now I’d be a giant hypocrite if I went and committed suicide after telling millions of people around the world that “it gets better.”

But what inspires me the most is hearing from the people who have been encouraged by Spirit Day. Each year, I hear from so many people who have been inspired by Spirit Day, who have taken a look at the people all over the world wearing purple in support of them and just been absolutely wowed, and it’s not just people who are on the spectrum that are being helped. People have also told me that Spirit Day has inspired them to take leadership, and I think that’s just as amazing.

DJ: What are your future plans and visions in both your life and with your advocacy?

BM: Wow, another loaded question. Well fortunately, I’ve known I wanted to be an elementary school teacher since I was about 7. One of my biggest passions is working with children. Not only are they absolutely hilarious, but there are just so many opportunities involved. I think part of the reason why I made it through such a rough time in high school was because I’d had such amazing teachers growing up. They inspired me to be a leader and to work hard. I want to recreate those kinds of opportunities for my future students. I want to be there for them – whether that’s supporting them in their education, helping them build their leadership skills, or just letting them know what sorts of things are out there for them. I hope that I can build the sort of relationships with them that help them to become confident, caring people.

Unfortunately, I’ve still got a lot of schooling to go. I am only in my second year of my degree (which is four years in total). I am planning to go to Wales to finish my Bachelor of Arts. As I mentioned before, I’m a medieval studies major and a complete geek. Going to Wales would be right in the heart of my major, not to mention I’ve always wanted to live in Wales because that’s where King Arthur supposedly came from (total geek). After that I will have to do my teaching degree for another two years and because I’m an overachiever, I am going to try and do my Masters and PhD as well.

In terms of advocacy, I have been an advocate for all sorts of things for as long as I can remember, and I can’t imagine my life any differently. I’m just not the sort of person to stand by when I see things I don’t agree with (once again, thank you to my wonderful teachers). I would love to continue with Spirit Day for ever and ever if I could. I know I haven’t been able to take a very big role in the planning for the past couple of years now as my university midterms usually roll in around the same time, but I hope to get more involved again and I will keep helping out with Spirit Day for however long it continues to gain support.

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(GLAAD website)

DJ: What words of advice would you give to those out there struggling?

BM: My first piece of advice to people who are struggling is pretty cliché. It’s: keep going. Life gets tough, but it also gets better. No matter how dark and lonely it seems at the time, it will eventually start looking up. And I know it’s hard to believe that, but it’s the honest truth. I believe that every person came to this earth with a purpose, and I would hate to see those lives cut short before they really have a chance to shine.

My second piece of advice is to try really, really hard to think positively. Believe it or not, but it is really difficult! But in all honesty, positivity goes a long way. When I was in grade 11 (I think), one of my favorite teachers sat me down at lunch and asked me to come up with a list of 10 things I liked about myself – and not things that people had told me I should like about myself, but things I actually, genuinely liked. It was so hard. I cried, and I think I could only come up with like eight. But it was the first step to my journey in getting better. Every night after that I challenged myself to think of three things I was grateful for that day, and whenever I spoke I made a conscious effort to think about what I was going to say before I said it. If it was something negative, I would just keep it to myself or I would think about it and try to say it in a way that was positive instead of negative. It was brutal, but it made such a huge difference…and so I truly believe in the power of being optimistic.

DJ: Where can people find you on social media and what are some more ways people can help and get involved?

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BM:

Twitter: @ba_mcmillan

Instagram

Tumblr: the-wardrobeintocamelot (personal) or spiritday

If people would like to get more involved in Spirit Day, I would encourage them to send me a message, either on Twitter or on Tumblr. That way I can get in direct contact with them. I’ve been wanting to get a team together for some time now to help spread awareness about Spirit Day and keep the Spirit Day Tumblr page going all year round. I also love to help people plan Spirit Day events in their schools, communities or workplaces.

Otherwise, I would love if people would just help spread the word in whatever way suits their skill-set. I have seen everything from paintings/drawings to graphic art to .gifs to fan fictions to videos to picture collages – honestly, it’s all incredible and it all helps to promote Spirit Day and get people standing up to make a difference. Just send me the links and I can post them for all to see.

DJ: I want to thank you so much for this interview with Bullies Keep Out. It was a pleasure. Do you have anything you would like to add?

BM: In the closing comments, I’d just like to bring your awareness to a community that I am a part of called 2 Billion Under 20. It was started by two pretty amazing people, Stacey Ferreira and Jared Kleinart. 2BU20 is a group of young people under the age of 20 who have all done something great with their lives. The idea is that there are two billion people in the world under the age of 20 and that all of them have or will do something powerful with their lives. The group consists of musicians, vloggers, hackers, writers, entrepreneurs, advocates and more. I encourage you and your followers to check them out and see all the other amazing things that people are doing with their lives. Their stories are all inspiring and if you are or you know someone who has also done something incredible, then they should definitely join the community. It’s an incredible resource and we are also coming out with a book soon (which I will be featured in!) which I am so, so excited about. The link to our website is here

Thank you so much for your support and I hope to be able to support you in any way that I can in the future!

Interview by Writer/Interviewer and Founder, Manager, Cyber Bully Investigator, Mentor/Coach, and Host of La Bella Vita Podcast of Bullies Keep Out Dana Jacoviello

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