Twelve years ago, a group of students from the University of Virginia wanted to call attention to the increasing incidents of violence and harassment against gay classmates. Their efforts, now recognized as a national Day of Silence on campuses across the nation, are still going strong. This year the planned activities will be held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old junior high student from Oxnard, Calif., who was shot and killed by a 14-year-old classmate because of his sexual orientation.
Today, hundreds of thousands of students from all beliefs and backgrounds are expected to participate in the quiet protest by taking a vow of silence for the day, in hopes of bringing an end to the name-calling and harassment that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students often endure while at school. The explicit intent of this Day of Silence is to make schools safer for all students and to let those who have experienced bullying know that they are not alone in their desire to find a solution to this national problem.
Bradford Bryant, a retired Methodist pastor and grandparent of a Desert Ridge High School student, has asked the Gilbert Unified School District governing board to take a stand and refuse to allow Gilbert schools to recognize the event. He has alleged that any participation “is complicit in supporting the homosexual assault on family values.” Apparently Bryant believes a perceived moral slight to be of more consequence than the very real physical, mental and emotional assaults the day is intended to quell.
A 2005 National Schools Climate Survey found that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment remains commonplace in schools across America with derogatory remarks and the constant threat of physical violence impairing the educational experience for many students. Over a third (37.8 percent) have endured physical harassment and nearly one-fifth (17.6 percent) have been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.
The shooting death of Lawrence King last February is only the most recent in a long line of such acts of senseless violence. The Day of Silence was originally organized and continues to be carried out by concerned students who have come together in hopes of preventing future tragedies and to make the point that bullying and name-calling are not an acceptable expression of disagreement.
Apparently Bryant, as well as the conservative coalition (Mission: America) that has launched a national campaign against the Day of Silence, does not agree with this sentiment. I can only assume that they find physical and verbal harassment preferable — more virtuous — than this tranquil and anti-violent mode of expression. How else does one explain their efforts to thwart a peaceful Day of Silence meant as a protest against abusive prejudice?
I’m truly baffled that anyone would consider students silently petitioning for nonviolence as an assault on America’s family values. One has to wonder how fragile those values are if they are so easily endangered.
In fact, I believe the students participating in the Day of Silence are exhibiting a far greater degree of maturity than the parents and grandparents who are creating such a ruckus. At least their offspring are capable of recognizing that the Day of Silence is an attempt to bring an end to the truly immoral acts of hatred and violence, not as a means to promote any sexual lifestyle. Maybe there’s hope for the next generation after all.
Sandi Glauser is a resident of Gilbert.