to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s website, the
national “Day of Silence” is the largest single student-led
action aimed at drawing attention to the bullying and harassment of gay
and lesbian students that remains all too frequent in America’s
school system, from elementary school through college.
More than 1,900 schools with more than 100,000 students participated in
this year’s “Day of Silence,” held April 13 across the
On the “Day of Silence,” students take a vow of silence, refusing
to speak the entire day as a way of showing solidarity with gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgender students whose voices and identities are squelched
on a regular basis.
The idea for the “Day of Silence” got its start back in 1996
at the University of Virginia, where 150 campus students took part in the
first-ever event. The impact of the day inspired two students to take the
event nationally. They developed a program that could be adopted by middle
schools through universities all around the country.
More than 75 percent of the nearly 48 million kids who are in school in
America from kindergarten through high school attend an institution that
does not protect them from discrimination based on sexual orientation or
gender identity, as they protect other groups, such as those based on race
Studies have shown a strong correlation between safe school laws, student
protection and class attendance. Gay and lesbian students who do not have
school policies that protect them from violence and harassment based on
their sexual orientation are 40 percent more likely to skip school out
of fear for their personal safety than kids who go to schools with such
Seven states — Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina,
Texas and Utah — have laws that specifically prohibit positive portrayals
of gay and lesbian people, or of gay and lesbian issues in schools.
Nationally, four out of five gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students
have reported being harassed because of their sexual orientation.
Of those who have been targets of harassment, 83 percent say that the faculty
or staff of their schools rarely or never intervene when they are present
and homophobic harassment takes place.
Almost a third of students who self-identify as gay or lesbian report they
have skipped at least one day of classes out of fear for personal safety.
Not surprisingly, the lack of protection and safety has a direct affect
on gay and lesbian student achievement and learning. Gay and lesbian students
who report they are the targets of repeated harassment are twice as likely
to report that they do not intend to attend college.
When gay and lesbian students say they cannot identify any supportive faculty
members at their schools, 24 percent report no plans for going to college.
But in schools where students say they can find supportive teachers and
faculty members, the number of gay and lesbian students who say they do
not intend to go to college drops to about 10 percent.
Attempts to silence or stifle gay and lesbian students and their achievements
are all too common.
Last year, for example, South Carolina Congressman Jim DeMint said gays
and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to teach in public schools.
And while there has been progress, with more than 3000 gay-supportive student
groups being formed at schools across the country, other such groups are
frequently denied, or schools place obstacles to student membership.
For example, recently the Harrisonburg School Board in Virginia voted that
all students had to have parental consent to join any student group. The
policy was put in place only after a Gay/Straight Alliance was formed at
the school, to much opposition.
The tactic taken in Harrisonburg is a common one employed by schools that
do not want to welcome or protect gay kids, or the groups that support
Naturally, many school kids are just coming to terms or recognizing their
sexuality, and need safe places to talk about it. That’s the purpose
of the student groups. Many students cannot tell their parents of their
sexual orientation, for fear of disownment or even physical harm.
Requiring parental consent to be in such a group effectively eliminates
the support group for a large number of students.
Other schools have gone the way of the White County Board of Education
in Cleveland, Ga. There, school administrators are recommending the cutting
of all “noncurricular clubs” at the school.
The policy change comes soon after a Gay/Straight Alliance applied for
This tactic is another one used by many schools to stop gay supportive
student groups. In many cases, the schools are afraid of activist or legal
action if they simply deny a gay group, and therefore they cut all extracurricular
activities rather than let a gay group survive.
This not only deprives gay and lesbian kids of a support network and their
own club, it also further demonizes them at school. Other kids see their
activities and clubs taken away from them and “Bblame” the
These examples sadly illustrate that, despite the remarks of Peter LaBarbera
and his anti-gay allies all around the country, education experts and advocates
need to speak up more, not less, for gay and lesbian students.