Some parents and students are speaking out in support of the National Day of Silence at Desert Ridge High School - in contrast to a group of parents who are letting their children skip school today in protest of the event.
The National Day of Silence, which is not sanctioned by the school, asks students to take a vow of silence for all or part of the day to bring attention to bullying, name-calling and harassment. The day is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
Elizabeth Lenz, whose son is a freshman at the Gilbert Unified School District school in Mesa, said she doesn't feel it's right that some parents are keeping their kids from attending today.
She said she think the petitions and fliers opposing Day of Silence circulating on campus Wednesday incited a "type of rebellion."
"I think some of these parents aren't using this as a teachable moment," said Lenz, a member of the school's site council. "Peer pressure is a fact of life. You better get used to it. I think this is an opportunity to talk to your child."
Other students also are upset about the protest and are in support of the day.
Kaileigh Sandberg stressed that Day of Silence "is not a Gay Pride Day. The Day of Silence is a day of protest against discrimination and harassment."
Her friend Kaysi Carroll said she doesn't think it's fair that "we're being segregated by straights and gays. I think that we're all people, and, basically, what we're standing for is to be treated equally."
Hailey Jensen, another friend, said she wants everyone to know that no one is trying to push anyone's sexual orientation on anyone.
"That's not what the day is about," Hailey said. "It's not only for gay, lesbian, bisexual people. It's a day against harassment that students have to face every day because of who they are."
An argument about the Day of Silence among students at the school Wednesday was personal for Vanessa Mendez and her oldest daughter, Kristin, who is a senior at Desert Ridge, a member of Gay, Lesbian And Straight Supporters Club, and a lesbian.
Kristin Mendez won't be able to participate in Day of Silence because she was suspended Wednesday for two days after getting into an argument with several students handing out protest fliers and asking students to sign a petition, her mother said.
Kristin said she felt disrespected, and was suspended because of foul language and the arguments. She said two other students were also suspended.
"This Day of Silence is to let people know that we have our gay people who have been disrespected because they are gay," Kristin said.
"We're being killed because of who we are. We have Day of Silence to represent who we are. This is not telling you to be gay," she said.
Her mother, also a lesbian, said once the fliers were handed out, "it gave permission for these kids to antagonize anyone with different sexual preferences."
In response to Day of Silence, the Alliance Defense Fund is sponsoring the student-led fourth-annual Day of Truth on Monday.
The fund is a conservative Scottsdale-based legal alliance that provides free legal defense in resources to "preserve freedom, life and marriage in the family," said Douglas Napier, a senior legal counsel with the fund.
"We want Christian students to understand they have the same First Amendment right," Napier said. "The Day of Truth is an opportunity to students to respectfully present a different viewpoint than students participating in Day of Silence. Day of Silence doesn't communicate anything but silence. It doesn't teach anyone anything."
Desert Ridge parent Randy Bellino said about 25 students are expected to come over to his house today for swimming and pizza to protest the day. He said his son, Jake, is not anti-gay, despite what people are saying.
"He's doing it because it shouldn't be a day of silence. If we're going to have a day of silence, it should be for the people who are losing their lives over in Iraq," Bellino said. "If the kids talk about it, then they have discussion about it. They can't debate about it if they're silent."