Right Fights ’Day of Silence’ with Day of School-Skipping

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Mar 10, 2009

Slamming as "disruptive" to classrooms the quiescence of students participating in the "Day of Silence," anti-gay groups have taken aim at young GLBT Americans engaging in quiet, non-violent resistance to prejudice and discrimination.

An item posted at the anti-gay Web site Americans for Truth About Homosexuality quotes from a mass email sent out by the Illinois Family Institute, an anti-gay organization that has encouraged readers to confront local schools and teachers on the issue and to participate in a "walkout" of the Day of Silence by keeping children out of any school that permits students or teachers to remain silent in observance of the day.

The Day of Silence, an annual nonviolent protest that symbolizes the powerlessness and lack of political voice of LGBT youth, and which is scheduled this year for April 17, was dismissed by AFTAH as "a thinly-veiled attempt to propagandize students using the time-tested technique of hyping homosexuals as victims."

The text at the AFTAH Web site accused LGBT equality advocates of "viciously demonizing Christians... and equating religious moral teachings with 'hate'; working to deny Christians the right to live by their own moral code; and 'silencing' viewpoints with which they disagree."

Meantime, the Illinois Family Institute page on the Day of Silence warned, "On this day, thousands of public high schools and increasing numbers of middle schools will allow students to remain silent throughout an entire day-even during instructional time-to promote GLSEN's socio-political goals and its controversial, unproven, and destructive theories on the nature and morality of homosexuality."

A downloadable PDF offering the "Reasons for Day of Silence Walkout" claimed that, "The explicit purpose of DOS is to encourage sympathy and support for students involved in homosexual and cross-dressing behaviors whose voices have been allegedly silenced by the disapproval of society."

The text continued, "The implicit purpose is to undermine the belief that homosexuality and cross-dressing is immoral."

Added the text, "Parents should no longer passively countenance the political usurpation of public school classrooms through student silence."

Without acknowledging that surveys and studies indicate that GLBT students are often subjected to physical assault as well as verbal harassment, the document's text adds, "The oft-repeated mantra is that the goal of DOS is to keep LGBTQ students safe.

"The problematic rhetoric of 'safety,' however, substitutes speciously for the more accurate term of 'comfort.'"

The text goes on, "to suggest that in order for those who self-identify as homosexual or 'transgender' to be "safe," no one may disapprove of homosexual conduct is both absurd and dangerous.

"If this definition of 'safety' were to be applied consistently, virtually all statements of disapproval would be prohibited."

Another PDF available at the Illinois Family institute's page on the walkout encouraged parents to follow a set of talking points with their children as to why they were being kept out of school on the day that some of their classmates were choosing to remain silent.

The talking points included: "Homosexuality is not an innate identity," "...freely chosen homosexual behavior is immoral and should be resisted," "Homosexuality is not equivalent to race," "Just because someone may feel bad when hearing that someone disapproves of homosexuality does not mean that disapproval is cruel or wrong," and "No school should support a view of homosexuality that is unproven and controversial, and that is physically, emotionally, and spiritually destructive to individuals and society."

In an online list of FAQs about the Day of Silence, however, the section entitled "Why do we need a Day of Silence?" stated that, "GLSEN's 2005 National School Climate Survey found that 4 out of 5 LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school and more than 30% report missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety."

Added the text, "The Day of Silence helps bring us closer to making anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and name-calling unacceptable in America's schools."

The Day of Silence is organized by the Gay Straight Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN), a national group dedicated to eradicating anti-gay prejudice and bullying in schools.

The AFTAH article cast the Day of Silence as an event that would prove "disrupt[ive to] the learning environment of all students," though the site did not offer an opinion as to how pulling students en masse out of school as a counter-protest measure would be less disruptive than students remaining symbolically silent for a day.

Indeed, despite the highly visible and potentially disruptive effect of parents pulling their children out of classes on April 17, AFTAH article exhorted schools to "Stop Politicizing Our Classrooms."

The argument put forth by the anti-gay Illinois group embraced a semblance of tolerance, with Laurie Higgins declaring, "While in the public school setting, it is legitimate to teach students that there exist diverse opinions on this issue, it is not legitimate to imply that one of those opinions is preferable to another.

"While it is appropriate to teach students that tolerance requires that society should treat all with civility, it is not appropriate to teach that tolerance requires students to accept the view that homosexual conduct is moral," Higgins continued.

Added Higgins, "The worthy end of eliminating harassment does not justify the means of exploiting instructional time."

The text added that students wishing to make a statement were free to wear T-shirts bearing supportive statements or to put up posters at their schools in favor of acceptance and diversity.

The text also cited the American Civil Liberties Union, which serves as a legal watchdog against abuses affecting Constitutional guarantees, and Lambda Legal, an advocacy group that litigates for GLBT causes, as having said that "school[s] can regulate what students say," adding that schools "can also insist that students respond to questions, make presentations, etc."

The text suggested that parents ask whether the administration or the teachers at the schools attended by their children would permit participation in the Day of Silence, and if it were the case that students would be allowed to do so, the text suggested that "parents can express their opposition by calling their children out of school on that day and sending letters of explanation to their administrators, their children's teachers, and all school board members."

The text at the site listed an array of anti-gay groups endorsing the "Anti-DOS Walkout," including Abiding Truth Ministries, the American Family Association, the Coalition of Conscience, the Concerned Women for America, Faith2Action, Liberty Alliance Action, Liberty Council, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, otherwise known as P-FOX.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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