Young people are always being told they should be seen and not heard. On April 16, hundreds of thousands will choose silence as a way to “speak out” for a good cause. Around the country, students from middle schools, junior highs, high schools, colleges and universities will take part in the 15th Annual Day of Silence, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). By remaining silent for all or part of the day, participating students will symbolically call attention to the silence surrounding anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.
LGBT students and those who are perceived to fall outside gender norms experience unacceptably high levels of hostility in school. Ordinary activities–such as getting from one class to another, using the restrooms, playing on sports teams and socializing online–can turn into nightmare scenarios. It doesn’t matter whether kids actually self-identify as LGBT: Words like “gay,” “sissy,” “faggot,” and “dyke” are wielded as weapons, and when the use of such words as insults continues unchecked the results can be tragic.
Last April the nation was forced to confront the most serious possible consequences of anti-gay bullying when two 11-year-old boys, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, from different parts of the country and within weeks of each another, committed suicide to escape from the persistent homophobic taunts and harassment they faced at school. As shocking as their stories are, the abuse they faced in school is not uncommon.
According to a study of middle and high school students conducted by GLSEN in 2007:
- 86.2 percent of LGBT students reported experiencing verbal harassment at school, and 44.1 percent reported being physically harassed.
- 22.1 percent reported being physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation.
- 73.6 percent heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently or often at school.
- 60.8 percent of students reported feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation.
- 38.4 percent felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
On the positive side, the GLSEN study found that schools with Gay-Straight Alliances, anti-harassment policies and faculty and staff who are supportive of LGBT people and issues report fewer incidents of harassment and bullying. At those schools, students are also more likely to report such incidents when they occur.
Conservative groups are urging parents to keep their children home from school to protest the Day of Silence. According to a Fox News report, correctly characterized by Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend as “sloppy,” so-called family-advocacy groups “warn that GLSEN is using the day to try to indoctrinate kids and force a pro-gay agenda into schools–something they want kept out of class entirely.”
Clearly, such groups would prefer that LGBT concerns be silenced altogether. Don’t let them have their way. To find out if students at a school near you are participating in the Day of Silence, contact [email protected]. If you aren’t part of a campus community, you can get involved by following activities and announcements on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and the Day of Silence Blog. You can also sign GLSEN’s petition to urge members of Congress to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Let your opposition to anti-LGBT harassment and bullying be seen–and heard!