Event to raise awareness about anti-gay bullying set for April 25
In the wake of a gay teen’s murder on a California junior high school campus in February, organizers say they’re expecting a record number of students to participate in this year’s National Day of Silence.
But the 12th annual event also appears to be drawing unprecedented opposition from right-wing groups.
The Day of Silence, set for April 25, is designed to raise awareness about anti-LGBT bullying in schools. Students from middle school through college are asked to take a vow of silence for at least a portion of the day.
This year’s Day of Silence is being held in honor of Lawrence King, an eighth-grader who was shot to death for being gay by a classmate in Oxnard, Calif., on Feb. 12.
Daryl Presgraves, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said this week that individual students from more than 3,000 schools nationwide had registered to participate. GLSEN, a national organization that promotes safe schools, has been sponsoring the National Day of Silence since 2001.
The current list of schools where students plan to participate this year included 129 in Texas, four in Dallas and seven in Fort Worth, Presgraves said.
"A lot of students don’t want to see what happened to Lawrence King happen to them, and they don’t want to see it happen in their schools," he said. "They see this as an as an opportunity to try to make something good out of a tragic situation. … We expect to have more than ever before."
Presgraves said GLSEN isn’t releasing the names of schools where students plan to participate, but that hasn’t stopped Mission: America, an Ohio-based anti-gay group, from compiling its own list — albeit an inaccurate one.
Mission:America’s list, distributed by e-mail and posted on various Web sites, has made news in part because it includes schools where administrators say they’re not aware of students planning to participate. By Wednesday, Mission:American had posted a second list containing hundreds of schools that had been removed from the original list in response to complaints.
Linda Harvey, founder and president of Mission:America, said the original list included all schools that are known to have chapters of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a student group. Harvey said Mission:America compiled a similar list last year, but this year’s version has been more widely distributed due to a partnership with the American Family Association, a Mississippi-based anti-gay group.
Mission:America and the American Family Association are calling on parents to keep kids home on the National Day of Silence if their schools appear on the list.
"It’s just an alert for parents," Harvey said. "I know a lot of parents don’t care for the day honoring homosexuals. Parents have kind of had it with this stuff going on with our kids."
Harvey called tying the National Day of Silence to King’s death "one of the most horrible things I’ve ever heard of." She said the event stigmatizes those who are opposed to homosexuality by erroneously suggesting that they’re to blame for bullying and violence.
"It is like saying, in our view, that opposing obesity causes bullying of kids who are obese," Harvey said. ‘It’s creating anti-Christian hostility. It’s creating hostility against traditional values. It’s preventing kids from getting accurate information that may help them and may keep them from entering homosexual lifestyles."
Harvey also said schools should penalize students who refuse to participate in class.
"Some schools will support students and not give them a grade penalty," Harvey said. "We consider that to be a passive endorsement, and we will not remove those schools from the list."
Presgraves encouraged students to consult with school administrators before participating in the National Day of Silence. Participation, which is not limited to LGBT students, can range from not talking on the bus or during lunch to remaining silent throughout the day, he said.
"It’s unfortunate that some people want to misrepresent what the day’s about — it’s a very positive day that gives hope to young people that their world can be better," Presgraves said. "What these organizations are saying points to the very reason why we need to have the Day of Silence. We would welcome the day when the Day of Silence is no longer necessary, but it certainly seems like that’s pretty far off."
Beau Heyen, co-chairman of GLSEN’s Dallas chapter, said he hopes the Day of Silence will call attention to the need for local, state and federal legislation protecting students against anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.
Heyen, who also serves as minister for youth at Dallas’ gay megachurch, the Cathedral of Hope, said he planned to meet Thursday night, April 3, with about 30 students from schools in the Metroplex to coordinate participation in the Day of Silence.
Heyen also said there will be a first-ever "Breaking the Silence" event, tentatively set for 7 p.m. April 25 at the Cathedral of Hope. The event is expected to include performances by the Women’s Chorus of Dallas, Turtle Creek Chorale and bands from Youth First Texas.
"We’re really trying to organize it and give it a unified feel throughout the city so kids feel like there’s more support for them," Heyen said.
For more information about the National Day of Silence, go to www.dayofsilence.org. To contact Heyen, call 817) 999-0199 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2008.