THE BUBBLE | Speaking out on a Day of Silence

04/16/2013 5:36 PM

05/20/2014 10:42 AM

You’d think that by now, we’d no longer need a Day of Silence.

Public support for same-sex marriage has climbed for several years. Popular TV shows feature gay characters and families led by same-sex couples. Politicians practically trample one another on their way to the microphone to shout out their support for marriage equality. The military gave the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy a dishonorable discharge. Even the president who signed the federal law in “defense” of heterosexual-only marriage now says he regrets it.

Yet the Day of Silence is returning, because one segment of society is louder than ever. That would be the dwindling percentage of Americans who think homosexuality is a disorder and a moral failing. They’re afraid the Supreme Court will give gay and lesbian Americans the same rights related to marriage that the rest of us have, and they’re throwing fits.

The Day of Silence is a nationwide, student-led event intended to draw attention to the consequences of such attitudes. Students from middle school to college age take vows of silence to symbolically illustrate the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and those perceived to be LGBT. This year’s Day of Silence is Friday.

Schools in our area routinely participate, so if your teenager seems even less communicative than usual on Friday, congratulations. You might have a budding civil rights activist under your roof.

Until recently, I was not a fan of symbolic activism. It seemed shallow and lazy, a way to feel like you’ve done something meaningful when you haven’t. Click “like,” forward this, share that, sign a petition. Don’t strain your shoulder as you pat yourself on the back for all that hard work.

But when the Human Rights Campaign’s equality symbol drenched my social media feeds in red a couple of weeks ago, my thinking changed. I was surprised at how many people I know changed their profile photos to the symbol to show support for marriage equality — and at how many instead chose symbols of derision. It was enlightening, to say the least.

That’s the value of the Day of Silence in schools: It shows LGBT students they are not alone. In Kansas, that counts for a lot. It’s easy to assume that Johnson County always equals conservatism, and that conservatism always equals anti-gay bigotry. My email inbox is proof that neither is true.

If the compassion of the majority of my e-mail correspondents were reflected in society at large, we wouldn’t need a Day of Silence. We wouldn’t be hearing about a lawsuit filed last year against the Blue Valley School District by a former student who says the district did nothing to protect him from “severe repeated physical and emotional assault and harassment” based on his gender and perceived sexual orientation. We wouldn’t hear about former presidential candidate Rick Santorum telling the Des Moines Register last week that any decision by the Republican Party to relax its stance against same-sex marriage would be “suicidal.” We wouldn’t have to cringe at his choice of words as we recall the stories of teenagers who killed themselves because of anti-gay tormentors.

Those tormentors aren’t only in schools. One of the true tragedies of anti-gay “values” is the way they tear families apart, causing parents to reject even their own children in the name of ... of what? It’s hard to imagine what could be more important than family love and cohesion, but to these people, apparently something is. And that something gains power every time someone hears an anti-gay remark and doesn’t speak up to counter it. “Keeping the peace” can sometimes be noble — and sometimes be cowardice.

Social pressure is a tool that all belief systems use, for good or for bad. That’s why it’s important to understand what the Day of Silence is really calling us all to do: Speak up.

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