BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Fair warning: You may notice rowdy kids riding the city bus in the middle of the day today. No, it's not some president's birthday or a teachers' workshop day. It's Stay Home for Bullies Day. And the quiet kids will be in class.
That's because Friday, April 16th is a "Day of Silence." The project was started by students at the University of Virginia in 1996. Now sponsored in public schools by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the day is dedicated to helping to end the silence over LGBT bullying in schools by drawing attention to the silence itself. Participating students take a day-long vow of silence, wearing placards or T-shirts to explain why.
As a person who went to a high school where saying something was "so totally gay" was an acceptable way to lodge a complaint, I see this as a smart way to combat a rampant problem.
Sadly, even this quiet protest -- which shouldn't interfere with the work of educators (on the contrary, quiet students should make it easier for others to learn, and anyone who suffered through laryngitis in school knows there are alternative ways to participate in classwork) -- faces stiff opposition. Some schools are actually encouraging students to cut class, "in order to protest against gays," as one Texan put it.
Not to be left out of any chance to demonstrate their intolerance, the American Family Association (AFA) issued a release urging parents to launch a counter-protest (emphasis mine):
If students will be permitted to remain silent, parents can express their opposition most effectively by calling their children out of school on the Day of Silence and sending letters of explanation to their administrators, their children’s teachers, and all school board members. One reason this is effective is that most school districts lose money for each student absence.
School administrators err when they allow the classroom to be disrupted and politicized by granting students permission to remain silent throughout an entire day.
So, let me get this straight: Students who remain silent are being "disruptive" and politicizing the school environment, while parents writing angry letters and depriving their kids' schools of funding to support their kids' right to bully people based on sexuality are -- what? Contributing to a healthy learning environment? I think not.
In fact, they are the ones politicizing education on the basis of their own beliefs. Those participating in the Day of Silence on the other hand, are urged by organizers "not to start fights" and "to treat people with respect." Too bad that respect isn't mutual.
Looking at what these two groups want to have happen, it's pretty clear who has humanity on their side. The Day of Silence is "designed to draw attention to the bullying and harassment faced by LGBT students everywhere." They're not out protesting Don't Ask, Don't Tell or the Defense of Marriage Act. They're quietly and artfully demonstrating that people shouldn't be harassed or beaten up because of their sexuality (or other peoples' perception of their sexual orientation).
So what are the AFA and other opponents of the Day of Silence after? As I see it, they're in the same category as opponents of the Civil Rights Act and the more recent expansion of hate crimes laws. They want to be able to hurt people based on their own prejudices and/or religious beliefs (and just imagine the uproar if the tables were turned, and a silent protest by religious students were objected to by those with a progressive worldview).
It's not like GLSEN and other advocates are just inventing this problem. Several bullying-related suicides have rippled through the media lately, leading to the coinage of the term "bullycide."
If not for humanity or pity's sake, the fact that some students are now facing criminal charges for "bullycide" should make parents think twice when they defend the right to bully someone.
Of course, one would hope that it wouldn't take the threat of paying their children's court fees to get parents to stop lobbying for the right to bully kids that look or act different than their kid does. One would think their own shame would shut them up, but I'm starting to wonder if they have any.
Now, there is one upside to this campaign against the Day of Silence: Teachers and students against bullying can see what school might be like without loud-mouthed bigots.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS