Friday April 20 is a national “Day of Silence” sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
For 12 years, the group has sponsored this event, which asks college, high school and middle school students to take a day-long vow of silence to peaceably “protest the discrimination and harassment – in effect, silencing – experienced” by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
The event “ exploits anti-bullying sentiment to silence people who oppose homosexuality based on morality,” counters the Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based organization that says it defends “conservative moral beliefs.”
Parents should keep their children at home on April 20, the resource institute exhorts, so they are not “forced into a hostile environment where they are forced to keep silent on their own beliefs and convictions.”
The network’s website says that “more than 500,000 students at nearly 4,000 K-12 schools, colleges and universities” have organized “Day of Silence” events in the past. It’s unclear whether that’s an annual or cumulative figure. The network asserts its “Day of Silence” is “one of the largest student-led actions in the United States.”
In California, according to the most recent statistics from the state Department of Education there are 1.4 million Grade 6 through Grade 8 public school students and nearly 2 million Grade 9 through Grade 12 students.
The University of California says it is home to 187,000 students. The California State University system says it has 400,000 and California’s community colleges report 2.9 million enrollees.
The network notes that while some students are silent for the whole day, others are silent only part of the day – at lunch, for example – or at a rally highlighting the day’s message.
Students at the University of Virginia organized the first “Day of Silence” in 1996 as a class assignment on non-violent protest. Some 150 students participated. Two years later, organizers shopped the idea nationally and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated, the network says.
The event has now “infiltrated” high schools and middle schools, the resource institute says.
Students who organize a “Day of Silence” at high schools or middle schools are urged by the network to “get support from the principal or other school staff.”
If the administration is not approving, the network suggests asking a “supportive” teacher to let a student talk for five minutes at the beginning of class about what the “Day of Silence” is and why it’s important. Or, alternatively, have a silent lunch to recognize the day.
In response to opponents, the network urges “Day of Silence” participants to stay clam and to focus on the issue at hand: “Bullying, name-calling and violence that students see and face in our schools.”
Of opponents the network says:
“Those who do not support the ‘Day of Silence’ often protest but rarely contribute positively to finding ways to end anti-LGBT harassment.
“Some individuals and groups organize events in response to the ‘Day of Silence.’ These events grossly mischaracterize or simply misunderstand the basic purpose of the ‘Day of Silence.’ Bringing attention to these events only adds a false credibility to their misinformation.”