Students gathering at SMU for Breaking the Silence event

Posted on 09 Apr 2010 at 12:45am
By DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

GLSEN expects more than 8,000 schools to participate in National Day of Silence on April 16

Local LGBT students will gather for Breaking the Silence on the Southern Methodist University campus on April 16.

The Dallas chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network is sponsoring the evening event after students at North Texas high schools and colleges observe the National Day of Silence.

Beau Heyen, chair of GLSEN Dallas, said he expects hundreds of local youth to take part in the National Day of Silence, by taking a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools.

He added that students in different schools have different levels of participation.
"Our youth are pretty good at reading their schools," Heyen said. No one is encouraged to do anything that would endanger themselves or their grades.

Many in North Texas simply have a lunch table where those participating observe their silence. At other schools, students remain silent all day. In some, even teachers participate and create lessons around the silence.

Breaking the Silence, in the ballroom of SMU’s Hughes-Trigg student center, will feature a DJ and an open mike for students to discuss the day’s experiences. Food and refreshments will be served.

Heyen said students are welcome to perform spoken word, drag or comedy. Student bands may also perform.

He encouraged Gay Straight Alliances to bring posters, T-shirts and other materials they’ve used during the Day of Silence to put together a mural. He hopes students will get ideas from each other and share their successes.

Heyen said the Texas GSA Network plans a summit to bring together groups from different schools, but for now Breaking the Silence is the largest such gathering in North Texas.

Local organizations can reserve tables to distribute fliers and information.

Reservations for tables should be made with Heyen by the day before the event.
Heyen said a parent-friendly space will be available at Hughes-Trigg since many of the students participating aren’t old enough to drive.

PFLAG will be on hand for parents. Heyen said while many parents are supportive of their out teens, they often have questions
.
"They’re silenced in their own lives as parents of LGBT youth," Heyen said.
Lambda Legal offers tips on what rights students have to remain silent during the school day.

Public schools must protect students’ right to free speech, which includes the right not to speak, according to Lambda Legal. Schools can’t restrict students’ speech as long as it isn’t lewd, profane and doesn’t harass others.

The first Day of Silence took place in 1996 at the University of Virginia. Within two years, about 100 high schools were participating.

GLSEN has been involved since 2001, helping to turn the day into a national event. In 2005, the event included more than 4,000 schools, and last year about 8,000 schools across the country participated.

Over the years the Day of Silence has resulted in a backlash from the right wing.

This year, Tim Wildmon, director of the anti-gay American Family Association, is encouraging parents to keep their children home from school on the National Day of Silence.

"Parents must actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes," he said. "If students will be permitted to remain silent, parents can express their opposition most effectively by keeping their children out of school on the Day of Silence and sending letters of explanation to their administrators, their children’s teachers, and all school board members."

Wildmon claims his counterprotest will be effective because most school districts lose money for each student absence.

The 2007 National School Climate Survey found that LGBT students do better in schools with policies on harassment and support services.

LGBT students who have supportive teachers and staff earn grade-point averages that are a half-point higher than those who don’t. Schools with supportive policies and staff send 10 percent more of their LGBT students to college.

Schools with supportive policies and staff are also safer. Students in schools with GSAs are more likely to feel safe in school. Students from schools with comprehensive policies on violence and harassment are more likely to report incidents in school to a teacher or administrator, according to the report.   

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 9, 2010.

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