Youth First Texas to ‘break silence’ with candlelight vigil, dinner, dance
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
National Day of Silence takes on special meaning this year after a number of highly publicized suicides highlighted the bullying faced by LGBT youth in schools. The observance is held on Friday, April 15, this year.
During the day, hundreds of thousands of students nationwide bring awareness to the problem of bullying and harassment in schools by taking a vow of silence. Some wear tape over their mouths.
Participating students hand out cards to explain the reason for their silence. In less sympathetic school environments, some are silent only during lunch or before and after school. The event is organized nationwide by GLSEN.
Youth First Texas will hold a breaking the silence candlelight vigil at the YFT center at 5:30 p.m. Then they will go to Cathedral of Hope for dinner and a dance at the Interfaith Peace Chapel.
Last year, a group from YFT met at Rosa Parks Plaza in Downtown Dallas to break the silence. During the evening commute, they sat in a circle near the West End DART station with mouths taped and handed out information to those who stopped.
At University of Texas at Dallas, National Day of Silence will be observed at the Women’s Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.
At Southern Methodist University, students held a silent worship service followed by an open mike talent show sponsored by the LGBT student group Spectrum in the Hughes Trigg student center on Thursday in advance of the official day. Then on Friday they planned to set up a table in the middle of campus to hand out information silently about Day of Silence.
GLSEN advises students that they have a right to participate in Day of Silence between classes and before and after school but not necessarily in class.
According to a document for students prepared by Lambda Legal, the right to free speech includes the right to not speak. But free speech doesn’t necessarily extend to the classroom. If a teacher tells a student to answer a question during class, the student doesn’t have the constitutional right to refuse.
According to GLSEN, Day of Silence encourages schools to adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies. Staff needs to be trained to recognize anti-LGBT harassment and implement these policies.
Students are encouraged to form Gay-Straight Alliances on campus to address bullying at school. GLSEN works with GSAs and schools to create curricula to help students respect and understand differences within the school community.
This is the 15th year of Day of Silence, which started at the University of Virginia. Over the next few years, more schools began to participate and GLSEN took over the event in 2001.
GLSEN estimates that students in 10 percent of schools nationwide participate.
Ryan Schwartz of GLSEN’s national office in New York said that as of early this week, 362 students in Texas including participants from 12 schools in Dallas had already registered.
“There are usually dozens of students that participate for every one that registers,” he said.
Last year, 20,000 students registered with GLSEN, according to Schwartz, but hundreds of thousands participated.
GLSEN conducted a survey of 7,000 LGBT youth. Their research shows that bullying in middle and high schools has reached epidemic proportions. Four out of five LGBT students report being harassed because of their sexual orientation and two-thirds because of their gender identity.
The study also found that three out of five LGBT youth feel unsafe at school and a third have missed school over the last month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.