News from the 11th annual Day of Silence -- an event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in which students and teachers take a vow of silence to protest bullying and harassment of LGBT students -- made me want to scream. This year's event was to be the most successful yet, with nearly half a million students from more than 4,000 schools and colleges across the nation expected to participate. By virtually any standards of protest, the event seems tame: In addition to staying silent, participants may wear T-shirts or pass out explanatory literature. All in hopes that gay students will one day be able attend school without being targets of bullying. In a country in which one 2005 poll found that 90 percent of LGBT students had been harassed or attacked in the previous year and were three times as likely as straight teens to say that they do not feel safe at school, this doesn't seem like so much to ask.
But what do I know? Apparently wearing T-shirts and staying silent are insanely threatening -- worthy of countercrusades, vandalism and reprimands.
On the national front, the event has spawned a rebuttal: "Day of Truth," bankrolled by the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund, to counter the "homosexual agenda" and offer an "opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective." Students participating in the Day of Truth wear T-shirts inscribed with the misleading motto "The truth cannot be silenced."
And even without the conservative message makers, the day has spawned a rash of random bigotry and official censure. Last week, South San Francisco High School was covered with homophobic, anti-Semitic and racist graffiti referring to the event. At New Castle Chrysler High School in Indiana, the day caused such controversy that school officials called for a lockdown in response to fears that some students who opposed the day might respond violently. And two girls at Gulf Middle School in Cape Coral, Fla., were suspended for disrupting the "educational process." One girl was suspended when other students began yelling about the sticker she was wearing explaining her vow of silence. Another student was suspended after she passed out written material explaining the meaning of the day.
With truths like these, I'd prefer the day of silence.