There is something very poignant about seeing a single flower, such as the image of a red poppy at Flander’s Field and knowing its role in Remembrance Sunday and its story associated with The Great War. Over the years, flowers have become associated with different causes. There is the Snowdrop Appeal which fundraises for units to support families who have had miscarriages, still-born children and early baby loss. The Daffodil is the logo of the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity. Rotary International have a Crocus campaign to provide funding to the End Polio Now programme. And last week I heard about The Pansy Project.
The Pansy Project is a beautiful, poignant and inspiring guerrilla gardening project which marks acts of homophobic and transphobic abuse. For the past nine years, artist Paul Harfleet has been planting single unmarked pansies in the nearest source of soil to where the incident occurred. The pansy is photographed in its location and recorded on the Pansy Project website along with the title of the abuse suffered. Sometimes a name is given of the person who not only suffered from homophobic abuse but died as a consequence. Please be warned – part of the website contains a lot of highly offensive language. It is portrayed, however in entirely appropriate manner, given the circumstances.
Paul Harfleet was interviewed by ITV News a couple of years ago about The Pansy Project and how it begin. He explains how he was interested in roadside memorials and how they change how you look at the street and how it makes you think about something that has happened at that location. Pansies are a flower, which have gay associations. However, the word pansy is derived from the French verb, penser, which means ‘to think’.
The Pansy Project does make you think. This simple action by Paul Harfleet is gentle in its response but hard-hitting in terms of highlighting a hate crime that is frequent and overwhelmingly under-reported. Whilst the act of planting a pansy may seem insignificant, there is something about it which helps “complete the circle of events”. The pansy is a positive acknowledgement and a living memorial to those who have suffered. It also raises the value of the power of a positive action in a place when it comes to learning and healing from a negative event which has happened there – a form of closure. Perhaps this needs considered more when helping children work through and cope with bullying as one of many strategies for empowering children and helping them address their feelings.
As a teacher, it also makes me think. How do I tackle homophobia and transphobia? An article by Phil Beadle in The Guardian begins with the statement, “If the human rights of gay and lesbian children in our schools are routinely ignored, then the rights of transgendered children are not even recognised as existing.” The comments which follow make for interesting reading and it is clear there is a complexity to gender issues which extends well beyond the male-female spectrum. I have only just begun to realise the extend of my ignorance about the matter and the subsequent impact this may have on the children that I may teach.
Many thanks to Paul Harfleet for allowing me to use his photo, “Stupid Lesbian!” Rue Du Lombarde, Brussels in this blog post. To keep up with other photos and the Pansy Project, visit the Facebook page.