REGIONAL — On Friday, Apr. 25, thousands of LGBT and straight ally students in the Carolinas and across the U.S. will participate in the National Day of Silence, a day-long vow of silence to represent how LGBT people are forced to live invisible lives.
In response, national right-wing groups including the American Family Association (AFA) and Americans for Truth are pushing a “Day of Silence Walk Out.” The action was originally called for by Mission America, a Columbus, Ohio-based organization that cites witchcraft as one of many “problems” plaguing public schools.
In Charlotte, Board of Education member Kaye McGarry has backed the boycott. She told The Charlotte Observer she would put a motion excusing students’ absences for Apr. 25 on the board’s Apr. 15 agenda. That motion failed at the meeting.
According to the Observer report, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) sent memos to principals “reminding them they must give students observing the Day of Silence ‘the same restrictions or access as you do to any other student-led activity.’”
Students are not allowed to miss school to avoid events they disagree with, CMS spokeswoman Nora Carr told the Observer.
Daniel Gonzales is an “ex-gay” survivor turned activist in Denver, Colo. He is also a contributing author at BoxTurtleBulletin.com. He said McGarry’s proposal “would effectively sanction the avoidance of the [Day of Silence] by anti-gay families.”
He told Q-Notes, “Given her previous opposition to the anti-bullying proposal I believe she is being disingenuous when she claims her motivation is to prevent the Day of Silence boycott from becoming ‘a big deal.’ She’s wasting the district’s time to accommodate the most anti-gay of her constituents.”
AFA announced the creation of its North Carolina affiliate, the Faith, Family, Freedom Alliance, on Apr. 4. With the help of Mission America, the group is circulating a list of all the schools where students have indicated they will participate in the Day of Silence.
The list, from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), includes more than 30 schools in North Carolina and eight in South Carolina.
On the Mar. 29 edition of “Family Policy Matters,” the right-wing, radio talk show of the N.C. Family Policy Council, Americans for Truth founder Peter LaBarbera attacked the Day of Silence.
“The Day of Silence is a national pro-homosexual event. They try to make it seem like students do it on their own but this event was started by a group called GLSEN … a very well-funded pro-homosexual activist group.”
The assertion is patently false — the first Day of Silence was organized by University of Virginia student Maria Pulzetti in 1996.
LaBarbera encouraged listeners to find out if their children attend a school that is endorsing or allowing the Day of Silence. If so, he said parents should pull their children out of classes for the day.
“We cannot allow the schools to become conduits for this pro-gay, or any, ideology,” he said. “We know that people can leave the homosexual lifestyle. There are ex-gays who find salvation…this is not taught to kids.”
LaBarbera also lamented the “plummeting” age at which youth are coming out today.
Distorting the truth
The school boycott and walkout aren’t the only pitfalls LGBT and allied students will have to contend with because of their stand for equality. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative legal group and think tank based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is pushing its fourth so-called “Day of Truth.”
ADF first organized the event after a student was barred from wearing a harassing T-shirt to school on the Day of Silence. Courts have consistently ruled against the student, whose T-shirt read “Be ashamed,” “Our school embraced what God has condemned” and “Homosexuality is shameful.”
ADF’s 2008 campaign is slated for Monday, Apr. 28, when participating students will pass out cards bearing such slogans as “the Truth cannot be silenced” and listing the address of the “Day of Truth” website.
Backers claim the event is an attempt to “counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.” Critics counter that the “Day of Truth” is simply a front for promoting harmful “ex-gay” therapies.
“The Day of Truth is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to push ex-gay programs on kids,” Gonzales said. “The majority of the resources on the Day of Truth’s website…were provided by Exodus and take the position that homosexuality is a form of ‘brokenness.’”
Exodus International is the world’s largest association of “ex-gay” programs.
Other groups backing the “Day of Truth” include Focus on the Family, the “ex-gay” Love Won Out conference, the Southern Baptist Convention, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.
“I’ve got a feeling religious conservative parents are going to end up pulling their kids out of school for the Day of Silence but encourage them to participate in the Day of Truth. Sort of a stick your fingers in your ears and yell ‘la la la, I can’t hear you’ approach,” Gonzales said. “As for kids, well, they’ll use any excuse to take the day off from school.”
Conrad Honicker, 16, is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Leadership Team and a sophomore at Knoxville (Tenn.) West High School. He told Q-Notes that many student organizers have difficulty working with school administrators on LGBT-related issues.
“Unfortunately, most schools penalize the Day of Silence as being disruptive to the classroom,” he said. “So, one of our gay-straight alliance’s highlights is connecting with teachers and administrations and trying to get approval.”
Honicker dismissed the Day of Truth, calling it “ridiculous.” He said anti-gay organizers “completely blow over what the Day of Silence is about, and make it about morals and values. The Day of Silence is about safer schools and civility.”
Last year, high school senior Curtis Walsh was dismissed from David Crockett High School in Upper East Tennessee for attempting to organize a Day of Silence. According to Walsh’s mother, Tina Owens, Walsh had been physically attacked earlier in the school year.
In light of this situation and many more like it, Honicker said AFA is “absurd” to push its boycott. “Why deprive students of education because other students are choosing not to talk? Liberal organizations don’t tell leftist students to not go to school when right-wing Christian groups advocate proselytizing in school.
“Groups who are doing this are telling students, ‘When someone is doing something we don’t like, it is okay to compromise and victimize yourself by hindering yourself.’”
As important as it is to report on students’ battles with political, religious and school leaders, it is equally important to remember that LGBT acceptance is growing every day in schools across America.
Q-Notes spoke to one student organizer in the Triangle area of North Carolina who said he hasn’t dealt with any negative experiences related to the Day of Silence.
Bryt Lambert, 17, lives in Durham and attends the Hill Center and Durham School of the Arts. He has been a member of the Triangle LGBT youth group iNSIDEoUT180 since 2006 and became the group’s social chair in June 2007.
“I have never run into any problems with schools doing Day of Silence,” he said. “I know one or two of my friends have [had bad experiences]…but my friends did it anyway and did not care what happened to them. They stood up for what they thought was right.”
Lambert added that his organization will have a social gathering the evening of the Day of Silence. “We will have a party and break the silence there with an open microphone were [students] can speak out.”