GLSEN’s Day of Silence*

Today, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover would have turned twelve.  If you don’t know his story already by his name, take a deep breath first, then read this.  His mother is interviewed here, at Essence. [If you prefer video, here's the piece on CNN.]

It is as grim a coincidence as fifteen year-old Lawrence King’s dying on Valentine’s Day last year, after having been shot by a male classmate whom he had asked to be his Valentine a few days before.

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN)  has sponsored the Day of Silence as a consciousness-raising event for thirteen years now, and describe it this way on the Day of Silence website:

The National Day of Silence brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Each year the event has grown, now with hundreds of thousands of students coming together to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior.

Predictably, if still appallingly, a number of anti-gay organizations oppose the day. [Late-breaking example: Seattle, today.]

Parents of an Ohio teenager who took his life two years ago, after enduring the same kind of harassment as Carl Walker-Hoover, are now suing their son’s school to implement anti-bullying program.  GLSEN’s coverage of their story includes much data supporting the need for such programs, and warrants extensive quotation:

Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students (60.8%) who experience harassment or assault never reported the incident to the school, according to the GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students. The most common reason given was that they didn’t believe anything would be done to address the situation. Of those who did report the incident, nearly a third (31.1%) said the school staff did nothing in response.

Anti-LGBT taunts are also widely used against all students, not just LGBT-identified. Two of the top three reasons students said their peers are harassed in school are actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to the 2005 GLSEN/Harris Interactive Report,  From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America.1

The problem is even worse for LGBT students. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to the 2007 National School Climate Survey.

Additionally 60.8% of LGBT students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and nearly a third (32.7%) said they had missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.

GLSEN recommends four simple and effective steps that schools can implement to improve school climate and make school safer for every student.

  • Adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that enumerates categories such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression/identity. Enumeration is crucial to ensure that anti-bullying policies are effective for LGBT students and those targeted with anti-LGBT bullying.
  • Provide staff trainings to enable school staff to identify and address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment effectively and in a timely manner.
  • Support student efforts to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment on campus, such as the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance or participation in the National Day of Silence on April 17.
  • Institute age-appropriate, inclusive curricula to help students understand and respect difference within the school community and society as a whole.

Any discussion of the issue of bias in the schools warrants a mention of  The Respect for All Project (RFAP), a program of Groundspark.  RFAP “seeks to create safe, hate-free schools and communities by giving youth and the adults who guide their development the tools they need to talk openly about diversity in all of its forms.” And in California, we have AllyAction, a “safe schools organization” that provides “comprehensive approaches to eliminating anti-LGBT bias and violence in local school communities.”

These matters are critical for all of us, regardless of whether our children go to school on the coasts or in between them.   At the schools our kids will be attending in the Berkeley Unified School District, two kids (that I know of) have been victim to homophobic assaults this past year alone: one in our future elementary school, one in our future middle school.  Both were boys beaten up by groups of other boys; one was gender non-conforming, another had endured anti-gay harassment for months.

None of this is new. But I fear, as do many others, that harassment in the schools will increase as LGBT civil rights issues continue to spark national-level storm and stress. Our kids watch us and learn.

For this reason, every LGBT parent — as well as every ally of LGBT families, and everyone who cares for the safety of young people  – should not just educate themselves, but take it upon themselves to educate others.  There can and must be a day when the voices and hands reaching out to support and defend kids like Carl and Larry outnumber and overpower those that would do them harm. But this will only happen if we work to make it so.

1 The top reason, GLSEN reports, is physical appearance.

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I’m reminded by Ellen DeGeneres on her blog of The Trevor Project, “the only nationwide, around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.”  866-4-U-TREVOR.

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* Here are some other blog posts today on the topic:

6 Responses to GLSEN’s Day of Silence*

  1. awholelotofnothing April 17, 2009 at #

    Very well said. It is SHOCKING the lack of attention that is put on hate speech and bullying in schools.

    The need for equality should not be ignored.

  2. rev2bebt April 17, 2009 at #

    Judith Warner had a good article about homophobic bullying in today’s New York Times, with the point that the issue is less about sex, per se, than about “proper” gender typing. In some ways, this society treats little girls – who may be hockey-playing-princesses – far more fairly than little boys, who may only play hockey.

    The greatest finger-wagging “SHAME ON YOU” goes to the educated adults who let this teasing go on, who react with equal horror (or laughter) at the words “fag” or “dyke”, who give these words the power to hurt.

  3. Vikki April 17, 2009 at #

    My kids go to a school at which ANY type of teasing/bullying is immediately addressed and I am thankful for that on a daily basis. But, this should be a RIGHT for every child not a privilege for some.

  4. hahnathome April 17, 2009 at #

    My son participated last year and was one of the only kids to do so at the high school he attended. This year, he was on spring break and went on a mission to Mexico with his church (not my church). He spoke to me on the way to starting his journey how he knew DOS was on the 17th (also he and his twins’ 16th birthday) and how conflicted he was. The people he would be traveling with were Yes on 8, the church took that stand from the pulpit. Then we got to have the conversation about what it’s like for many gay people having to walk this tightrope all the time – what can and can’t be revealed about their life. How having to decide whether to participate in DOS with this group would be a very difficult decision. I think he really got that. I don’t know how he ended up resolving it – I’ll find out when he gets home tomorrow. He’s a fascinating child. So glad he doesn’t share my gene pool.

    • Lesbian Dad April 17, 2009 at #

      Wow, thank you for sharing this. What an intense 16th birthday. What a journey for him (and, depending on what he may have said — or not — today, what a journey for his fellow travelers).

  5. Life Underage April 20, 2009 at #

    I participated at my high school with two of my lesbian friends. I live in Dallas, which has in the past banned DOS. This year, the Wednesday before, it was announced on the news that schools would not stand in the way of participation. So we made little cards that explained what we were doing and gave them to everyone who asked, and we wore shirts that said “SILENCE” across the shirt. We definitely made a statement.

    It was the first time anyone had participated at my school, and by the end of the day, we all were in agreement that it was one of the most amazing and purposeful experiences.

    [I was especially surprised at the number of teachers and students who asked me what LGBT meant... :/ ]

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