Written by Emily Mullins
The Rev. Gary Brinn arrived at a local salon this past weekend with a rather unusual request: to have his fingernails painted bright blue. In an effort to raise awareness about bullying and the effects it has on youth and young adults, the pastor of Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ in Sayville, N.Y., will maintain his blue nails through the month of September – and hopes others will be courageous enough to do the same.
"Everyone at the salon was pretty much shocked because I don't represent someone who would have painted fingernails," said Brinn, who describes himself as a "NASCAR-watching, disabled Army veteran." "My nails are already totally chipped because I just don't know how to do this."
Brinn was inspired to publically address the country's bullying epidemic by the UCC's Synod Scarf Project, through which UCC members made more than 10,000 rainbow-colored scarves that were given to those who pledged to take a stand against the bullying of LGBT youth during General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif. He wanted to do something at a local level to raise awareness about the many reasons kids are bullied including their race, weight and disabilities. Brinn recalled a television special he watched this summer that focused on a young man being bullied because he wore blue nail polish to school and decided that would be an effective and simple way to attract attention to the issue.
"This is a continuation of the denomination's long commitment to supporting vulnerable and exploited populations, beginning with its early work towards the abolition of slavery and continuing today in active support for groups like immigrants and the LGBT community," Brinn said.
So far, a handful of people from Sayville Congregational UCC have also painted their fingernails blue, and Brinn hopes this visible witness will continue to catch on once school begins next week. Participants are asked to take a "No Bullying Pledge," promising not to bully others in person or online, to tell an adult if they witness or experience bullying, and to become a friend to those who are bullied. The congregation will host a celebration of its efforts at the end of the month and, if the campaign generates enough attention, Brinn plans to do it again in January, as a reminder to students coming back to school after the holiday break.
Bullying and teen suicide are issues that Brinn and other local clergy and community leaders have been working on for years in New York, he said. The group is currently working to develop a young-adult outreach program in Sayville as a way to help teens dealing with bullying or depression, and the local school system also has a number of programs in place to promote anti-bullying measures.
"Everyone has been very supportive and thinks it's a good idea," Brinn said of the blue nail polish campaign. "People are certainly asking me about it because it looks bizarre. Hopefully responses from other clergy and publicizing it to the community will spread it around."