Students across the East Valley made a statement Wednesday against discrimination of gays through their silence, and Christian students will respond today by speaking up in support of conservative values.
About 450,000 students nationwide — including about 7,600 in Arizona — participated in the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s 10th annual Day of Silence. Among those who took the 24-hour vow of silence was "Turtle" Steele, 17, a senior at Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School.
"People were pretty respectful," she wrote on a reporter’s notebook after school. "But there were a few people who were either laughing or teasing me."
Students at Mesa’s Dobson High School said they also saw general support for their classmates who took the vow of silence.
"We don’t make fun of them," said Dobson sophomore Kayla Stevens, 15. "We don’t really care. We just accept them for who they are."
The counterdemonstration today will be on a much smaller scale, but organizers at the Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale said students at more than 100 Arizona schools will participate in the inaugural Day of Truth.
Students who support Christian values such as chastity and marriage will wear navy blue T-shirts with the message "The Truth" and pass out cards that protest what they call the promotion of a homosexual agenda at schools. Overall, the Scottsdale organization distributed about 1,500 shirts nationwide.
Alliance Defense Fund litigation staff attorney Elizabeth Murray said her organization does not support any student who teases gay classmates.
"The Day of Truth is to promote respectful debate," Murray said. "And bullying or harassment is never respectful."
She said the event will promote free speech for all students.
Christina Fierro, 15, a Gilbert High School sophomore, said she has gay friends but believes both sides have a right to free speech, as long as it is done peacefully.
She said the issue has become more prominent at East Valley schools in recent years because students are more willing now to talk about whether they are gay.
"People are more accepting now," she said.