Wearing a red poppy on Remembrance Day is a tradition that’s lasted for decades, one that’s served as a visual memorial to veterans who have sacrificed their lives in wartime.
But some Canadians have taken offence to “rainbow poppies,” which has been described as a multi-coloured version of the poppy that honours LGBTQ+ veterans. Reports circulated on right-wing outlets that two students from a high school in Manitoba were suspended for refusing to follow their choir teacher’s demand to wear rainbow poppies.
Cyara Bird, a Conservative MP hopeful who lost in her riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, wrote on Twitter that her 17-year-old cousin Natalie and a classmate had been suspended from Stonewall Collegiate in Stonewall, Man. The pair allegedly refused a teachers “demand” to wear a rainbow poppy and were suspended for hate speech.
Stonewall Collegiate’s school board released a statement addressing the coverage about the high school. Interlake School Division made it clear that no student in their district has been ordered to wear a rainbow poppy.
At the time of publication, neither Cyara Bird or Interlake School Division’s superintendent Margaret Ward were available for comment.
The story has been shared by public figures like Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy, Quillette editor Jon Kay, and Kay’s mother Barbara. However, there is no proof that rainbow poppies are being sold in Canada and the school’s board denies the suspensions have occurred.
A Facebook account that appears to belong to Natalie’s father has refuted the right-wing coverage too, alleging that she was suspended specifically for hate speech.
He shared a screenshot of a letter written by the 14-year-old teenager that may have partially motivated this alleged suspension.
“They say her letter was hate speech,” he says in the post’s comments. The post has since been taken down.
“Way to un-do centuries of blood sweat and tears all because you need to do the dishes,” the statement reads. “Keep it in your pants Nobody needs or wants to see it.”
He adds that his daughter was also approached several times by individuals, teachers, and her guidance councillor for the views she was sharing.
His daughter confirmed that she wrote the letter in an interview with right-wing outlet The Post Millennial, adding that she taped copies of the letter in her high school’s hallways.
In spite of online outrage — including a petition asking prime minister Justin Trudeau to “stop” rainbow poppies ― there have been no signs of rainbow poppies appearing in Canada. The Royal Canadian Legion, which gives out poppies freely every year, does not have a rainbow edition of the pin. At the time of publication, major Canadian online retailers like Etsy, Ebay, and Amazon do not sell rainbow poppies.
Watch: the history of the poppy. Story continues below.
The idea of a rainbow poppy has existed for years, with a design proposed by British poet, Trudy Howson, in 2016.
The pushback seems to follow the initial backlash from a single Ebay posting from a British seller of a hand-made rainbow poppy, with proceeds going to charity. The seller has ceased bidding, after receiving online harassment.
The detractors take issue with the poppy’s changed appearance. However, other variations of the poppy have already been created. In a guide to the colour variations, the BBC lists the black poppy as a symbol honouring Black veterans, the purple poppy for animals who served in war, and the white poppy for those who are anti-war.
Others have criticized the need for LGBTQ+ veterans to deserve an individualized poppy. In response, people online have highlighted the major contributions of queer and trans individuals in war time were often downplayed, as their identities made them vulnerable for stigma and violence. World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing has been used as a prime example.
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