Local youth plan Day of Silence observances

SILENT DAY | Members of Youth First Texas gathered at Rosa Parks Plaza in Downtown Dallas for the 2010 Day of Silence. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Youth First Texas to ‘break silence’ with candlelight vigil, dinner, dance

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

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.

—  John Wright

GLBT Aggies to give out 1,000 ‘gay? fine by me.’ T-shirts for Day of Silence at Texas A&M

Camden Breeding, interim president of the GLBT Aggies at Texas A&M University, sends along word that the group will be giving away 1,000 “gay? fine by me.” T-shirts on campus Thursday. The group is asking people to wear the T-Shirts on Friday, the National Day of Silence, and gather for a huge group photograph. (No word on whether Rep. Wayne Christian plans legislation requiring an equal number of “family and traditional values? fine by me.” T-shirts to be distributed on campus.) But who knows, maybe some Aggies will hang on to their “gay? fine by me.” T-shirts for Midnight Yell next year. For more info on Thursday’s giveaway, visit the Facebook page.

—  John Wright

Agree or not, free speech is protected

Earlier today, David Taffet reported on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the right of those right-of-right-wing loonies at Westboro Baptist “God Hates Fags” Church to stage their protests outside the funerals of U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Westboro protests, the court said, are a form of speech and they are protected under the First Amendment.

Just as a reminder, the Phelps Clan of Westboro Baptist stages protests outside the funerals to, basically, cheer God on for letting these servicemen and women get killed. The Westboro nuts say that the war and the deaths of the servicemembers is God’s punishment on this country for being too liberal, especially when it comes to gay rights. The case started in 2006 when the father of a Marine killed in Iraq sued the Westboro group and won an $11 milllion judgment in trial court. But the appeals court overturned the trial court decision, and the Supremes upheld the appeals court.

Now, in a similar situation, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that officials at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill., cannot prohibit students from wearing slogan T-shirts to school, even if those slogans might hurt some students’ feelings. Those shirts are a form of free speech, the court said, and are protected under the First Amendment, according to reports on the Wall Street Journal’s “Law Blog.”

—  admin

Breaking the Silence in Downtown Dallas

April 16 was National Day of Silence. In more than 8,000 schools across the country, students were silent to protest bullying and mistreatment of LGBT students.

At 5 p.m., a group met at Rosa Parks Plaza in Downtown Dallas to Break the Silence. Here’s a video of their rally. From here, they took DART to Mockingbird Station where they walked to SMU and the area Breaking the Silence celebration sponsored by GLSEN.

—  David Taffet

In memory of Carl Walker-Hoover

On April 6, 2009, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover committed suicide. He was 11 years old.

Carl Walker-Hoover
Carl Walker-Hoover

Carl never identified as gay. But for whatever reason, bullies at his school decided to tease him about being gay. They called him “faggot” and subjected to all kinds of anti-gay taunts and harassment. That day last April, Carl decided he couldn’t take it anymore.

This month, a Web site called Black Voices/Black Spin has published an interview with Carl’s mother, Sirdeaner Walker — a woman with no real ties to the LGBT community who has channeled her grief over her son’s death into working with the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network to pass legislation, both in her home state of Massachusets and at the federal level, aimed at ending all forms of bullying and harassment, including anti-LGBT bullying and harrassment, in our schools.

I suggest that everyone visit the BVBlackSpin Web site to read the interview in it’s entirety. It’s especially important as we gear up for GLSEN’s National Day of Silence on Friday, April 16, and especially in light of anti-gay group’s efforts to derail the Day of Silence.

Here’s a brief snippet:

BV: When GLSEN reached out to you last year, you had some apprehension. What changed your mind? SW: Some people told me that they would try to push some gay agenda on Carl’s death. So I was a little afraid-my son never identified as gay. But God told me that I needed to work with GLSEN. And over time, it became clear to me how committed and passionate GLSEN is to making sure that all children are safe in their schools. Through GLSEN, I have been able to meet so many people who are vastly different than me. This experience has made me more accepting of people.

—  admin

AFA: Keep children home from school on Day of Silence

April 16 is the National Day of Silence, a nationwide observance organized by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network in which students in classrooms across the country will help bring attention to the problems of anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment in their schools by taking a one-day vow of silence.

Today, the American Family Association sent out an e-mail urging its members and supporters to fight back against the Day of Silence by keeping their children home from school that day.

The e-mail, signed by newly-crowned AFA president Tim Wildmon, says:

“Parents must actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes. Please join the national effort to restore to public education a proper understanding of the role of government-subsidized schools. You can help de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child’s school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the Day of Silence.

“Parents should no longer passively countenance the political usurpation of public school classrooms through student silence.

“If students will be permitted to remain silent, parents can express their opposition most effectively by calling 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. One reason this is effective is that most school districts lose money for each student absence.

“School administrators err when they allow the classroom to be disrupted and politicized by granting students permission to remain silent throughout an entire day.”

Okay, first of all, as the parent of a son who is constantly getting in trouble for talking when he shouldn’t be, the idea that students are disrupting classes by being quiet made me laugh out loud. Most teachers I know (including my now-retired father and my sister), would love to have a whole day of quiet students for a change! I figure that allowing a student to write an answer down — on paper or the blackboard — instead of speaking to answer a question would be a small price most teachers would willingly pay.

Anyway, after I laughed at that part, I got angry at this part: the idea that these right-wing jerks have the gall to accuse LGBT students and their supporters of “politicizing the classroom” when it is in fact the right-wingers who are most often politicizing the classroom by trying to force their religious beliefs into the public school curricula. Especially here in Texas where the right-wingers have managed to get elected to the state Board of Education and are now raping our textbooks to replace historical and scientific fact and sound scientific theory with their own personal religious beliefs and , often, bigotry.

Wildmon tells his followers to go here to learn about how to participate in the “Day of Silence Walkout,” and urging them to contact their children’s schools and tell them that if the school is participating in National Day of Silence, they will be keeping their children home that day.

So I am asking all of you to go to National Day of Silence Web site to find out all the info you can, and to let the schools in your area know that you support their participation in this observance.

—  admin