Ross Wetherbee remembers being bullied in school because he was “different” — an experience that’s sadly all too common for “rainbow” young people who identify as sexually and/or gender diverse. “I don’t want any other young people to have to go through the same thing,” he said.

That’s why he was drawn to Wear it Purple, which he first encountered in 2012 after he’d left school and joined the workforce. The organisation was founded in 2010 in response to worldwide stories about rainbow young people taking their own lives due to bullying and harassment, and strives to foster supportive, safe, empowering and inclusive environments for them.

As part of that mission, Wear it Purple Day is held every year on the last Friday in August — 26 August in 2022 — when communities around the world are encouraged to show their support for rainbow young people by donning purple clothes and accessories.

“Wear it Purple Day is important because it shows young LGBTQIA+ people across Australia that they are seen, that they are respected and that they are safe to be their true, authentic selves – whether that is at school, their workplaces, or out in the general community,” explained Mr Wetherbee, who’s now a Board Director and Co-President of Wear it Purple.

He said he’s personally witnessed the positive impact of the annual event.

“Every year … we hear from teachers at schools of kids who ‘come out,’ either to them or at school — sometimes in an all-school assembly — for the first time on Wear it Purple Day,” said Mr Wetherbee. “To know that we may have helped in a small way to create a safer environment for them to do that certainly gets the tears going!”

Mr Wetherbee said support from large organisations is vital, not only from a financial perspective — for example, donated funds allow Wear it Purple to send thousands of free packs and purple merchandise to schools across Australia — but also from a social one.

“It’s important for companies to show support because young LGBTQIA+ people are going to be entering the workforce in the next few years, and they are starting to think about the type of careers they want to have,” said Mr Wetherbee. 

“When organisations support days like Wear it Purple Day, it shares a strong message to our next generation of young leaders that there are safe and inclusive organisations where they don’t have to hide.”

He credited Commonwealth Bank for being among the first corporate supporters of Wear it Purple.

“In 2018 in lieu of a Christmas gift each staff member could pledge a festive star to one of five charities, of which Wear it Purple was one. The collective funds allocated to Wear it Purple allowed our organisation to plan and allocate strategic investment that we’d never before had,” said Mr Wetherbee. “This support I believe positioned us for the year-on-year growth in terms of impact that we are now on.”

For Wear it Purple Day 2022, Unity is encouraging people who work at CommBank to show their support by donning purple outfits, hosting or attending a morning tea or lunch, participating in team discussions about about inclusive language, and donating to Wear it Purple. 

Bradley Marsden is National Network lead for Unity, Commonwealth Bank’s network for employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender-neutral, transgender, intersex (LGBTQIA+) and allies. He spoke to Ross Wetherbee, Board Director and Co-President of Wear it Purple, ahead of Wear it Purple Day 2022.

Photo credit: Terence Ho Photo credit: Terence Ho

If you need support:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline (25 years and under): 1800 55 1800
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
  • Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
  • QLife Australia: 1800 184 527

Banner image: Bradley Marsden, left, and Ross Wetherbee (credit: Terence Ho)