What Will You Do To End The Silence?

Today is the Day of Silence. Day of Silence is a national day of activism where students around the country will exercise their right to remain silent in honor of those LGBTQ youth who have been forced into silence simply by being who they are. Over half a million students will participate in this year's Day of Silence, including almost 50 of Chris's and 25 of mine (although our DOS is Tuesday due to MAP testing today).

Supporting LGBTQ youth is something I'm very passionate about. Adolescence is hard for any teenager, but to start acknowledging your sexuality and realizing that you aren't what is considered "the norm", and that any number of your friends, family, or acquaintances could immediately reject you if they find out, is incredibly difficult.

According to a study done by GLSEN, 4 out of 5 LGBTQ teenagers report being the victim of physical, verbal, or sexual harassment at school, and 30% reported missing at least one day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety. If there's one thing I believe in with my whole heart, it's that EVERY kid deserves to feel safe and comfortable in their own skin at school. Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth are not only overtly harassed in their schools, but are the victims of subversive harassment in classrooms where slurs like "faggot" and "homo" are all but ignored by teachers.

Hate crimes against LGBTQ people, particularly youth, are not a thing of the past. Lawrence King, an 8th grader from California, was shot and killed by a classmate because of his gender expression and sexual orientation. An 8th grader. Shot. For being gay. This happened February 12 of this year.

Fortunately, when students approached me to help them start a Gay/Straight Alliance almost three years ago, I had a supportive administration, and we jumped through relatively few hoops. We've experienced backlash from a small number of students and a smaller number of staff, but for the most part, I think myself and these ladies have provided a safe haven for our kids who are LGBTQ or Allies. We are still fighting the battle for our gay male students to feel comfortable coming out. Chris has been fighting a different battle. His district is larger, more bureaucratic, and more conservative. He's been fighting for his kids to be able to have GSA, a fight that has gone all the way to the School Board. Today's day will hopefully go smoothly, without any vandalism or harassment, but anything could happen. One of us has a student who, after coming out to her mother, was told by her mother that she wasn't allowed to join the "AIDS Club". One of us has a kid whose parents already reject him for his personality and mannerisms, and he is afraid to come out while he lives under their roof. I have a former student who will hide her sexual orientation for an indeterminate period of time because of the profession she has chosen to go into. I have close friends whose parents have all but disowned them for their sexual orientation. One year, we had two teachers publicly denounce Day of Silence to their classes, one going so far as to tell students that God didn't want them to participate.

Events and organizations such as Day of Silence, Ally Week, and GSAs are vital to not only providing LGBTQ youth with a safe haven where they can be themselves, but to creating a visible program of understanding and tolerance that all students can witness. These days aren't about gay rights, sex education, promotion of sexual activity among students, or drag shows. They're about promoting a culture where bullying of students is unacceptable and understanding and tolerance is the norm. ALL students deserve the chance to go to school in a safe environment. Period.

Update: Good news! Chris's district is approving GSAs at the high school level with full support of building principals and district attorneys. He's got well over the estimated 50 kids participating today--everyone from jocks, to Muslim girls in hijabs, to anime kids in cat ears. This is going to make a difference in so many kids' lives, and I'm so proud of him for helping those kids fight for their right to assemble.


Jaelithe said...

This sounds like an excellent event. How long has it been around? I don't remember hearing about it when I was in high school (but my high school never would have supported such a "controversial" thing, so . . . )

Remind me to tell you in detail sometime about the time I anonymously hung a gay pride flag in the breezeway after a friend was told he couldn't bring a boy to prom. Heh. Good times!

Stephanie Pfaff said...

Excellent news about Chris's school!

I have a high school friend who was spat upon in the hallways and had his ass kicked, all because he is gay.

It's unbelievable how stupid some people are about the subject. I can't believe that a TEACHER would denounce the Day of Silence. Gross.