Friday, April 17, 2009

Day of Silence observed

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Observer Update) - Hundreds of thousands of students at thousands of schools nationwide are taking part in the National Day of Silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment.

Students from more than 8,000 middle schools, high schools and colleges registered as participants in last year’s Day of Silence. This year the number is expected to be higher.

Students typically participate by remaining silent throughout the school day, unless asked to participate in class.

The Day of Silence was created by University of Virginia students in 1996 and became a national event in 1997. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network became the national sponsor in 2001.

To bring attention to this problem of anti-LGBT bullying, many students will hand out speaking cards on the Day of Silence, which read: “Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.”

Some students are holding the day this year in memory of Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old from Springfield, Mass., who took his life April 6 after enduring constant bullying at school, including anti-LGBT attacks. Carl, who did not identify as gay, would have turned 12 today.

It was at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying, the GLSEN said.

Earlier this month, the parents of a Mentor, Ohio, high school student filed a federal lawsuit in connection with their son’s suicide.

Mohat, 17, went home from school on March 27, 2007, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

In a federal lawsuit, the parents of Eric Mohat allege that he regularly “was called ‘gay,’ ‘fag,’ ‘queer’ and ‘homo’ among other names” and that the school did nothing to prevent it.

A 2007 study by GLSEN of more than 6,000 LGBT students found that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half reported being physically harassed and about a quarter reported being physically assaulted.

“The Day of Silence is a positive event during which students bring attention to the pervasive problem of anti-LGBT bullying in our nation’s schools, a problem far too often ignored,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “It is inspiring to see so many young people take action to make their schools safer.”

But some students will not hear the silent message.

A coalition of conservative Christian groups is calling on parents to pull their children out of school today.

The coalition is made up of organizations that have a national history of opposing LGBT civil rights and includes The American Family Association, Campaign for Children and Families, Concerned Women for America, Liberty Council, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, reported

“The implicit purpose of the Day of Silence is to undermine the belief that homosexuality is immoral,” the groups said in a joint statement. “It is the belief of the sponsors of the Walkout that parents should no longer passively accept the political usurpation of taxpayer- funded public school classrooms through student silence.”

Many of the same groups are involved in a national protest day which they call “The Day of Truth” as a response to the Day of Silence, and school districts which bar counter demonstrations are being threatened with lawsuits. It is scheduled to take place Monday April 20.

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