Proud to be me: Aziz Al-Sa'afin
For journalist Aziz Al-Sa'afin, Pink Shirt Day represents an opportunity for Aotearoa to stand united against bullying.
“It will be the most amazing thing to see a sea of pink on the day. It’s such a strong, positive and powerful message to send out there – it takes the power back.”
Earlier this year Aziz made headlines after he was the victim of a homophobic attack on Auckland’s Karangahape Road.
“The best thing that came out of that was I felt empowered to speak up on a national platform, and send a clear message that I’m not ashamed of who I am.
“I think we’ve all probably been guilty of not speaking up in the past, but what I’ve learnt is there’s safety in numbers and if we can call it out, it will make a huge difference.”
Words can hurt
Aziz says homophobia is often expressed through hurtful language.
“It’s in the way we speak and what we say to other people. While many people won’t pick up on it, you can’t understand what those words mean and the weight of them unless you’ve felt attacked or vulnerable. People have definitely used words like ‘camp’ and ‘gay’ to try and emasculate me.”
Aziz says communication is the greatest tool we have to fight any kind of bullying.
“Quite often it’s our own friends and family who might say or do hurtful things to us. It’s so important to have a conversation about it – sitting down and explaining why it’s not okay, why it hurt you and explaining it can really help.”
Support networks vital
Aziz also experienced bullying growing up and says his mum was a huge support through that time.
“She instilled in me to be proud of who I am and showed me that the people who matter to me have my back. It’s so important to have a strong support network around you.”
Support the person doing the bullying too
Aziz acknowledges that people who bully are often going through something themselves.
“It’s true that the person doing the bullying is often coming from a place of hurt and this is their way of expressing it – that absolutely doesn’t make it okay, but it’s important to find out why they’re behaving the way they are and do what we can to support them, too.”
Words of encouragement
Aziz has some words of encouragement for people who are being bullied.
“Even if it feels like speaking to someone about what you’re going through is the last thing you want to do – life will become better when you talk to someone. That could be a parent, teacher or even a helpline counsellor. It just helps to pop the negative bubble and makes sure you’re not dealing with things alone.”
On Pink Shirt Day, Aziz will make sure he speaks to the people in his life about bullying.
“I’ll talk to my nieces and nephews and use my experiences to help them. I’ll use my public platform to reach out and encourage people to get the help they deserve and let them know they’re not alone.
“It’s a day to spread the love, stand in solidarity and unite together.”