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How a rainbow poppy from the U.K. reportedly led to a student suspension in Manitoba

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When Julie Fearnley decided to make a rainbow-coloured poppy in 2018, she thought it was an innocent, noble gesture.

“A gay friend of mine asked about producing a rainbow version and immediately I thought about Alan Turing and his struggles with being a gay man in WW2 so I thought it was a good idea,” she wrote in an email, noting she’s made three-dimensional clay poppies for the last decade.

Inspired by her friend’s request and by Turing, a gay computer scientist whose work decoded Nazi Germany’s secrets, the U.K.-based youth volunteer crafted the coin-sized, glittery, enamel badge with a different colour for each petal.

She sold them on eBay, with proceeds going towards Poppy Appeal, a registered charity under the Royal British Legion.

But, now, Fearnley has removed the listing “because of the nasty comments I was receiving and because I couldn’t get the badges to the buyers in time for remembrance weekend,” she wrote.

“There was never any malice intended on my part to disrespect the red poppy and I thought it would be something different.”


Julie Fearnley’s rainbow poppy, about the size of a coin, has spurred fighting words on social media. She said she only made the badge at the request of a gay friend.

Julie Fearnley / eBay

While users are still trying to get their hands on the glossy badge because “they like the design and what they believe it stands for,” backlash against the modified poppy seeped into Canada.

Posts alleging the LGBTQ community encouraged replacing the red poppy with the rainbow one fanned online outrage. “I swear to God that the LGBTQ communities’ sense of entitlement is so bad that I am ashamed these days to admit to be even part of it, one Facebook user wrote.

But the debate consumed social media, the LGBTQ community never did promote the rainbow poppy. And the poppy was never mass-produced — it was hysteria rooted in fake news.

“People tend to trust online media posts, wrongly and unfortunately, because their friends share them. You see these posts on Facebook, you see them in intimate settings,” Marsha Barber, a journalism professor at Ryerson University, told CityNews Edmonton.

“You see that your friends are concerned in sharing these posts so, unfortunately, it gives these posts a kind of heightened credibility, but it’s so important that people think critically.”

My 17-year-old cousin was suspended today … for hate speech

The panic reached Stonewall, Man., a rural community 30 minutes northwest of Winnipeg.

Cyara Bird, a Conservative candidate in the 2019 federal election, posted on Twitter after hearing an unsettling claim from her relatives.

“My 17 year old cousin was suspended today… want to know why?” her now-deleted tweet read. “Her choir teacher was demanding that the choir wear rainbow poppies during their performance in the Remembrance Day ceremony. She and another student rejected that idea, and both were suspended for ‘hate speech.’ ”

But soon the story shifted.

Natalie Salisbury, Bird’s 17-year-old cousin and a student at Stonewall Collegiate Institute, might not have been coerced into wearing the badge.

“In light of misinformation which has been widely spread on social media, we will share that at no point did any staff member of Stonewall Collegiate or Interlake School Division direct, nor mandate, any student to wear a ‘rainbow poppy,’ ” read a statement from the Interlake School Division in Manitoba.

Reports suggest the school suspended Natalie because of posters she made protesting the rainbow poppy. Alan Campbell, a school board chairperson, told the National Post he cannot confirm or deny if a student was suspended related to the poster.

“The challenge we have protecting the confidentiality of our students is when people who aren’t on the board are posting online,” he said in a phone interview Monday, adding that a comment from the school would only “feed into it.”

“It all started when teachers, counsellors, and some students said we should wear the rainbow poppy…. I typed up papers on a computer, printed them off and taped them up in the halls,” Natalie reportedly wrote to The Post Millennial, the only other outlet she appears to have corresponded with aside from Rebel Media.

“As I was putting them up, teachers were taking them down. I watched as they took them to the office and gave them to the secretary … they accused me of hate speech and endangering the physical safety of (LGBTQ students) … I was just voicing my beliefs and morals.”

I was just voicing my beliefs and morals

Bird, who declined to speak with the National Post, hastily trashed her original tweets and issued an apology for spreading misinformation about Natalie’s suspension.

“I regret that my words have been misconstrued. I regret that my post was ill-informed and I apologize to any who have been hurt as a result,” she wrote. “I have learned I was wrong.”

Natalie, who could not be reached, is reportedly suspended until after Remembrance Day.

The Royal Canadian Legion only approves of the traditional red and black poppy.

Despite the controversy, this isn’t the first rainbow poppy to appear online.

Trudy Howson, a U.K.’s LGBT poet laureate, started a campaign in 2016 to commemorate LGBTQ veterans, sharing a rainbow coloured-poppy of her own. This year, she also dealt with criticism for the revised poppy.

• Email: bhristova@postmedia.com | Twitter:


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