Today around the country over 8,000 schools will participate in the national Day of Silence, a day of action in which students vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.
Although it has only be in operation for 16 short years, the Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Could you be quiet for a whole day for a good cause?
Founded in 1996 by students at the University of Virginia, and currently officially sponsored in K-12 schools by GLSEN, the Day of Silence is the largest student-led action to protest the bullying and harassment of LGBT people and their allies.
The first Day of Silence was a small success, garnering some positive press attention. The next year the event grew to include 200 UVA students and more than 100 colleges and universities across the US. Two years later, high schools became involved, and in 2000 the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) became the official sponsor of the event. In 2008 over 8,000 high schools, colleges and universities took part in the action.
Participating students are both gay and straight. Their silence seeks to raise an awareness of the harassment and bullying that many LGBT students face daily from their peers. It is not only LGBT students who are being abused, a fact that GLSEN also wants to bring awareness to this year. In 2009, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself because of peers who harassed him, calling him gay even though he was straight. On the 2009 Day of Silence Carl would have turned 12.
“As was the case with Carl, you do not have to identify as gay to be attacked with anti-LGBT language. From their earliest years on the school playground, students learn to use anti-LGBT language as the ultimate weapon to degrade their peers.”
The Day of Silence helps all schools by providing resources to schools on how they can take simple steps to stop harassment within their own walls. Information is provided about adopting an anti-bullying policy, curriculum that addresses LGBT issues and tolerance and training teachers and staff to better deal with bullying when they see it.
Through “Breaking the Silence events,” which are typically held at the end of the school day, students can speak out against harassment and demand change for their schools and communities.
To really understand the magnitude of this issue, it is important to examine the statistics surrounding bullying. The numbers are staggering. However, when adding the LGBT component to that same teen, the numbers escalate. For example, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network found that 9 out of 10 LGBT teens experience some type of harassment of school. Two-thirds felt unsafe due to their sexual orientation and one-third felt unsafe due to their gender expression. According to the CDC, LGBT teens in grades 7-12 are twice as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens in this same grade range. This is due, in large part, to the same issues Tyler and Kenneth faced – bullying and harassment. LGBT young adults who experienced high levels of rejection were:
• Nearly 6 times as likely to have high levels of depression;
• More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide;
• More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs; and
• More than 3 times as likely to engage in unprotected sexual behaviors that put them at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The issue of not wanting to go back to school because of the daily harassment provides a negative learning experience. Mental Health America states that LGBT teens that are subjected to bullying and/or harassment may be in danger of compromising their educational success:
• Gay teens in U.S. schools are often subjected to such intense bullying that they’re unable to receive an adequate education. They’re often embarrassed or ashamed of being targeted and may not report the abuse.
• LGBT students are more apt to skip school due to the fear, threats, and property vandalism directed at them. One survey revealed that 22 percent of gay respondents had skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe there.
• Twenty-eight percent of gay students will drop out of school. This is more than three times the national average for heterosexual students.
• LGBT youth feel they have nowhere to turn. According to several surveys, four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school.
Unfortunately, a day like this doesn’t come without its critics. Several family advocacy groups say the Day of Silence is politicizing the classroom and indoctrinating students. One of the most outspoken groups is Liberty Counsel who is calling on parents to pull their children from school on the Day of Silence. Sounds like they are supporting bullying and Harassment.
“The Day of Silence is not about tolerance or bullying. It is about pushing a sexual agenda. Students and staff who disagree with a radical sexualized agenda are demonized and made to feel like outsiders. Children should be afforded a rigorous education opportunity and not be forced to accept a radical sexualized agenda subsidized with tax dollars. Parents and lawmakers should take the time to learn about the extreme views of GLSEN and the intolerance promoted by the Day of Silence.”
GLSEN tries to prepare students for the negative reactions and wants to make sure that the Day of Silence is a respectful day. They have published four things all students should know about the event. The last one addresses students who oppose Day of Silence.
Students who oppose the Day of Silence DO have the right to express their views, too. Like you, they must do so in a civil, peaceful way and they only have a right to do so during non-instructional time. For example, they don’t have a right to skip school on Day of Silence without any consequences, just as you don’t have a right to skip school just because you don’t like what they think or say.
GLSEN – The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. I am so proud that Clay Aiken is a spokesperson and supporter of GLSEN.
More than 20,000 students are registered and hundreds of thousands more will participate at middle schools, high schools and colleges from every state in the country in GLSEN’s National Day of Silence.
Please support this event. We all deserve to live in respect and dignity, free from violence and hate.
Stopping bullying, violence, harassment and discrimination should be something that all of us can agree with, and all of us should work towards.