Students Observe - & Protest - the Anti-Bullying ’Day of Silence’
On April 20, students both gay and straight participated in the national Day of Silence -- "a day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools," according to the official Day of Silence website.
The Day of Silence has been sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network since 1996. It began at the University of Virginia in 1996. In the ensuing years, it has become the largest student-led grassroots LGBT action in the country.
Since 2005, it has also become a lightning rod for religious rightwing groups, who maintain that it "promotes homosexuality" and opposes Christian students. A prominent Jewish conservative, Judith Reisman, compared students involved to Hitler Youth.
After students from Burlington High School in Burlington, Ver., observed the gay-friendly event, they gathered at City Hall Park where the city’s mayor gave his official support for the Day of Silence, the Burlington Free Press reported. Students from the school also created and handed out 200 T-shirts that supported the event.
"Our deliberate silence echoes that silence which is caused by harassment, prejudice, violence and discrimination," Burlington High School Principal Amy Mellencamp said. "We believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What will you do to break the silence?"
Students from the University of Wisconsin also participated in the national event. The Students Opposing Acts of Prejudice organized a gathering where they wore neon tape across their mouths and clothes and protested anti-gay bullying in silence, the Wisconsin ABC affiliate news station WAOW 9 reported.
"It’s a way for them to know that they’re not alone. That we’re here for them and that everyone is here for anyone that needs it," SOAP President Kevin Martin said.
Students around the Chicago area also kept silent to support the event. After the school day, more than 300 LGBT youth then participated in the Night of Noise where they were meant to "break the silence." One of the participants was 16-year-old Grace Gonia, a junior at Lyons Township High School, which is located in a suburb of Chicago, the Chicago Phoenix reported.
"I’ve really wanted to make sure everyone can go to school and feel safe and feel accepted," Gonia said. "And feel that they don’t have to hide [their identity]." A number of Chicago students gave speeches about issues in the LGBT community, especially when it comes to anti-gay harassment among youth.
The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News reported that the anti-gay activist Scott Lively was invited to the Draper Park Christian Church in Oklahoma City for three days of "teaching and preaching." He will appear only a few days after the national Day of Silence. Additionally, the Christian group Focus on the Family planned to hold its Day of Dialogue event in order to oppose the Day of Silence. Focus on the family’s event encourages students to have conversations about God’s "redemptive design for marriage and sexuality."
"The Day of Dialogue gives you, as a student, the opportunity to express the true model presented by Jesus Christ in the Bible -- who didn’t back away from speaking truth, but neither held back in pouring out His incredible, compassionate love for hurting and vulnerable people. His example calls us to stand up for those being harmed or bullied while offering the light of what God’s Word says," the event’s website reads.
President Obama announced his support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Decimation Act -- two measures that would help LGBT youth in public schools -- on the Day of Silence.
"The President and his Administration have taken many steps to address the issue of bullying. He is proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, introduced by Senator Franken and Congressman Polis, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Senator Casey and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez," the White House said in a statement. "These bills will help ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment."
GLSEN’s Executive Director, Dr. Eliza Byard and also released a statement about Obama’s support.
"Today’s announcement is a vital show of support to students everywhere of all identities, backgrounds and beliefs who face bullying and harassment in school," said Byard. "By speaking out on GLSEN’s Day of Silence in support of these two critical bills, the President has given greater hope to students who often feel that they have nowhere to turn. It is deeply moving to know that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who face the multiple threats of harassment, violence and discrimination have the President as an ally in their efforts to win all of the protections that they deserve."