Must Be Spring, Day of Silence Derangement Syndrome is Breaking Out

On April 20, thousands of students will remain silent for part of the school day to call attention to anti-gay bullying and harassment. Called the Day of Silence, the event is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

In 2008, some Christian right organizations called on parents to keep their kids home on the Day of Silence. This is happening again this year.

The Day of Silence brings out some really odd statements from those opposed to it. One would think that sending your kids to school on that day is sinful. Take for instance this exchange, reported on Right Wing Watch, between Linda Harvey and Laurie Higgins:

Higgins: What the Day of Silence does is ask kids to refuse to speak during instructional time in class, that they have no legal right to do and no school has to accommodate that, and so that’s what we’re doing is asking parents to call their school, ask if students are allowed to refuse to speak in instructional time, and if they are, to keep their kids home in protest about the disruption of instructional time for a political purpose.

Harvey: You can keep your kids home that day if you suspect or you find out that teachers are going to accommodate this protest silence in order to honor homosexuality, let’s be clear about what this is, this is a God-dishonoring day that honors sin, sinful, immoral behavior that most parents don’t want their children involved in.

Higgins: Christian teachers out there and if you’re working in a public school plan activities that involve student communications so students are not allowed to do this.

Laurie Higgins says the Day of Silence people promote kids remaining silent in class. While the organizers are fine with teachers who allow this response, GLSEN is clear that students do not have the right to remain silent if the class activities call on them to speak. Here is what the Day of Silence blog says about students and class room communication.

1. You DO have a right to participate in Day of Silence and other expressions of your opinion at a public school during non-instructional time: the breaks between classes, before and after the school day, lunchtime, and any other free times during your day. If your principal or a teacher tells you otherwise, you should contact our office or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

2. You do NOT have a right to remain silent during class time if a teacher asks you to speak. If you want to stay quiet during class on Day of Silence, we recommend that you talk with your teachers ahead of time, tell them that you plan to participate in Day of Silence and why it’s important to you, and ask them if it would be okay for you to communicate in class on that day in writing. Most teachers will probably say yes.

3. Your school is NOT required to “sponsor” Day of Silence. But Day of Silence is rarely a school-sponsored activity to begin with – it’s almost always an activity led by students. So don’t be confused – just because your school isn’t officially sponsoring or participating in Day of Silence doesn’t mean that you can’t participate.

4. Students who oppose Day of Silence DO have the right to express their views, too. Like you, they must do so in a civil, peaceful way and they only have a right to do so during non-instructional time. For example, they don’t have a right to skip school on Day of Silence without any consequences, just as you don’t have a right to skip school just because you don’t like what they think or say.

The irony is that Higgins and Harvey accuse the Day of Silence participants of violating school rules by remaining silent, and then turn around and urge truancy. Higgins and Harvey are fine with skipping an entire day of school, but become unhinged when those opposed to anti-gay bullying want to remain silent during non-instructional times.

I urge parents to resist Day of Silence Derangement Syndrome and send their kids to school on the Day of Silence (and even the misguided Day of Dialogue the day before). Send them to school and encourage them to become part of the solution via opposition to bullying. Students may want to remain silent, or take part in the Golden Rule Pledge which can take place any day of the year.

 

What kind of dialogue will we have?

Focus on the Family’s revised Day of Dialogue seems to be a kinder, gentler version of the former Day of Truth. On the new website, the group comes out strongly against bullying:

Any form of bullying and harassment of others is always wrong, including making fun of others, speaking down to them and saying things that hurt people. Christian students in particular should be bold in speaking up to oppose that kind of behavior because it goes completely against the model Christ gave us and that is reflected in Bible verses like these: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17.

They also emphasize that any objections to homosexuality must be expressed in a respectful manner.

Any verbal and written expressions used by students participating in this event should be loving and compassionate—and never be expressed in a condemning or antagonistic way to others. Even when we disagree with others, we should always demonstrate the utmost compassion and respect for them.

While I appreciate this tone, I wonder what kind of dialogue the sponsors hope to create. Let’s set the stage for the proposed dialogue. The DoD is set to take place on Monday, April 18, 2010, the Monday after the Friday the Day of Silence is observed. On the Day of Silence, some students are silent during non-instructional time to dramatize the silence surrounding the harassment and bullying of students who identify as GLBT or those who are perceived to be a sexual minority. The sponsors suggest providing cards to pass out which “speak” for them. Here is what they say:

Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.

DAY of SILENCE – What are you going to do to end the Silence?

This would be one side of a dialogue. What is the other side? Is there another side? The DoS invites a dialogue about ending bullying relating to perceptions of sexual orientation. What kind of dialogue is envisioned by the DoD? From the website:

As a high school or college student, do you sometimes feel discouraged when controversial subjects like homosexuality are brought up in your school—and the conversation seems stifled, one-sided and doesn’t allow free room for discussion? Do you feel like your beliefs—the deepest truths of Christianity—are being mischaracterized?

Wish your classmates could hear more of the story—like the truth about God’s deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality? Wouldn’t it be nice if a deeper and freer conversation could happen?

As it stands, on Friday, the DoS students will ask for a conversation about anti-gay name-calling and bullying and then on Monday, the DoD students will answer with a defense of evangelical beliefs about sexuality. To me, that seems like two groups talking about two different things.

And so, I will continue to promote the Golden Rule Pledge during the days surrounding the “Days.” GRPledgers will join with those calling for an end to anti-gay bullying and offer that response to the question: “What are you going to do to end the Silence?” In addition, I encourage students to be keep the dialogue about ending bullying on the DoD.

Exodus International drops Day of Truth

Exodus International announced today that the organization will no longer sponsor the Day of Truth (website has been disabled). In an article on CNN’s Belief’s Blog posted by Dan Gilgoff, Exodus leader, Alan Chambers tells the tale:

“All the recent attention to bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace while treating their neighbors as they’d like to be treated, whether they agree with them or not,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, the group that sponsored the event this year.

Probably surprised by the move, GLSEN’s Eliza Byard welcomed the news.

“I thank Exodus for making this very important step,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard on Wednesday after hearing of Exodus’ decision. “The Day of Truth was an effort to push a very specific set of opinions about homosexuality into schools in a way that was inappropriate and divisive.”

On the Day of Truth, middle and high school students are encouraged to wear Day of Truth T-shirts and to distribute cards that say “It’s time for an honest conversation about the biblical truth for sexuality,” according to Exodus’ manual for this year’s event.

“I don’t think it’s necessary anymore,” Chambers said of the event on Wednesday. “We want to help the church to be respectful of all its neighbors, to help those who want help and to be compassionate toward people who may hold a different worldview from us.”

As I noted in the article, I think this is a very significant move. Over the past three years, I have been documenting a split in the evangelical world over how to relate to the gay community. With this decision, Exodus has moved even farther away from the side of fear and stigma. I welcome it as quite consistent with the article I wrote yesterday for CNN.

Day of Silence, Golden Rule Pledge roundup

Today is the Day of Silence, where students attempt to remain silent for parts of the school day to bring attention to anti-gay bullying. This year has been much quieter than the first two years for the supportive Golden Rule Pledge. I am aware of students in a dozen or so communities who planned to pass out GRP cards, either while joining in the silence or indenpendently of it.

I have looked in on the Day of Silence twitter account a couple of times and this retweet caught my eye:

Today has been awful. Verbal and physical bullying. This is why we do this.

This pains me. I wish she had written that some kids were pledging the Golden Rule and standing up to the bullies. Maybe next time?

I have posted this song before but it seems fitting again. After the vid/song, check out the few news articles which mention the Golden Rule Pledge.

Charisma covered the GRP as part of a story on the Day of Truth, the walkout, and the Day of Silence. Christian Post took a similar line in this story.

Here is a link to a Crosswalk.com article I wrote a year ago, called “That’s So Gay” – The deadly consequences of bullying.

Golden Rule Pledge dayz

The Day of Truth is today and the the Day of Silence is tomorrow. In some places, on both days, students are passing out Golden Rule Pledge cards. There does not seem to be as much media interest as last year but things are happening. Charisma Magazine has a brief review of the different efforts taking place.

The unofficial them song of the GRP is Hero by Superchick. I say unofficial because the band has not authorized that but I like it and so here it is again.

Don’t walkout, walk along side and be a hero. Don’t preach at gay kids and call it conversation. Instead, walk along side and listen.

The Days are coming…

After March Madness – which I am looking forward to – the month of the Days will be here. April 15 (or 12th if you listen to the PSA on the website) is set as the Day of Truth with April 16 being the Day of Silence. The boycotters will also be pursuing their mischief. This week, the Illinois Family Institute sent out an email asking for supporters to find out if their local school would be taking part in the Day of Silence. Soon after, Exodus sent out an email promoting the Day of Truth.

In response to the boycott and the Day of Truth, I will again support the Golden Rule Pledge. For more on that, go on over to the Golden Rule Pledge site.  And consider joining the Facebook group supporting the GRP.

Also, this week, fellow Crosswalk.com blogger, John Shore posted on the GRP. His initial reaction to the GRP was not positive and his readers are giving me some tips.

Video response to the Illinois Family Institute Dare to Stand video

On the Illinois Family Institute website, a revised video opposing the Day of Silence is posted. Also posted on a new website, called Dare to Stand, it is hosted on YouTube and embedded below. The IFI folks have disabled ratings, comments and vocal responses for the video so I thought I would post my video response (Hero by Superchick) to the Dare to Stand video here.

And now the IFI video.

Instead of “Dare to Walkout,” how about Dare to be a Hero?
I will have another video response tomorrow as well more information on the Golden Rule Pledge and anti-bullying in general.

Hate 2 hope: The story of Tim Zaal and Matthew Boger

Although this story is old news, I thought it appropriate to share here in light of recent posts on bullying, the Day of Silence and the Golden Rule Pledge.
Watch this You Tube video which is a clip from a 2006 episode of 20/20 with John Stossel. More explanation follows:

Zaal and Boger appeared on NPR last November and continue to share their story at the Museum of Tolerance. I encourage you to read the entire piece but here are some highlights:

For nearly three decades, Tim Zaal thought he had killed a man during his rage-filled youth. The idea haunted him, but he buried it with the rest of his skinhead past.
“This used to be my stomping grounds,” says Zaal, standing on a street in West Hollywood, Calif., where he used to hang out in the early ’80s. “Mostly punk rockers would hang out around here after concerts and we would be involved with violence on a regular basis. Violence for me, back in those days, was like breathing.”

Zaal recalls the first meeting with Matthew Boger:

Zaal recalls that particular night, when he thought he took another man’s life. It began with listening to a band called Fear. During the show, a bouncer was stabbed and the police came. By the time he and his friends got to Oakie Dogs, they were juiced up on alcohol and testosterone and spoiling for a fight.
They found their victims across the street, a group of gay street kids. They were just hanging out when Zaal and his friends cornered one and started kicking and hitting him — 14 skinheads pummeling him all at once. But the small gay kid was still moving. For some reason, that enraged Zaal.
“I walked up and said, ‘What is wrong with you guys, can’t you do it right?’ ” Zaal recalls. The kid they were beating on looked up and made eye contact with Zaal. “I kicked him in the forehead with my boot and that was it,” Zaal says, snapping his fingers. “He was out like a light.”

Then they met a second time:

A few years ago, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles asked him to speak about his experience leaving the skinhead movement. Before the talk, he found himself chatting with his fellow presenter, Matthew Boger, the manager of operations.
“I asked Tim how he got out of the skinhead movement and what that was like,” Boger recalls.
The pair reminisced about West Hollywood back in the ’80s.
“And there was this moment in which I said that I lived on the streets,” Boger says, “in which I said I hung out on this hamburger stand, and [Zaal] said, ‘You know, we used to hang out there, but we stopped hanging out there after this one night that was so violent, I think I killed a kid.’ ”
In a flash they both knew without saying that Boger was that kid.
“It was the very first meeting that we had realized who we were to each other 20-something years ago,” Boger says.
Zaal recalls the moment the way anyone in his position would.
“Of course I was ashamed,” he says. “I didn’t know how to handle the situation. And obviously he didn’t how to handle the situation and he left as quickly as possible. It was about two weeks before I saw him again.”

This led to a remarkable picture of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Now Zaal and Boger present their story — and their unlikely friendship — to high school and middle school students around Southern California. They also do a tag-team presentation one Sunday every month at the Museum of Tolerance. It begins with a DVD film of their story and ends with a question and answer session.
Zaal says Boger used to bait him, and test him, to see if maybe those white supremacist ideas he held as a youth were still there, buried, in the grown man. But as time passed, both say that forgiveness — and redemption — have happened.

The two are writing a book about their experiences and were featured in a short documentary called Blood Brothers embedded here:
There are lessons here. I suspect this story is a like a projective test and people will derive lessons based on how they see the world. What can we learn from Mr. Boger and Mr. Zaal?

Kids suicide; parents point to bullying as the reason

It is difficult to pinpoint all the reasons why a child might commit suicide but the parents of two young men are pretty clear on at least one factor – bullying.
Carl Hoover-Walker was buried yesterday in Springfield, MA. Hoover-Walker was taunted with gay overtones, even though he did not identify as such. His mother said she alerted the school about the ongoing harassment but with no discernable difference. The 11 year old hung himself April 6th.
Just days before in Mentor, Ohio, the parents of Eric Mohat filed a lawsuit against the Mentor High School for failing to address clear signs of harassment. They believe the bullying led Eric to take his life at age 17. From the ABC News article:

The lawsuit — filed March 27, alleges that the quiet but likable boy, who was involved in theater and music, was called “gay,” “fag,” “queer” and “homo” and often in front of his teachers. Most of the harassment took place in math class and the teacher — an athletic coach — was accused of failing to protect the boy.
“When you lose a child like this it destroys you in ways you can’t even describe,” Eric Mohat’s father told ABCNews.com.
The parents aren’t seeking any compensation; rather, they are asking that Mentor High School recognize their son’s death as a “bullicide” and put in place what they believe is a badly needed anti-bullying program.

I believe Mr. Mohat is correct. School can be a cruel place and even though some schools do a good job at intervention, others do not. And schools cannot control what students do when they are off the school grounds. Parents and youth leaders must help set the tone for how people should treat each other. So we need schools to improve what they are doing to intervene in these situations and we need adults to model a better way to interact.
Some think schools are doing enough. In describing her reasons for supporting a boycott on the Day of Silence this coming Friday, Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute told WorldNetDaily

…that the goal cited by the GLSEN events is to reduce bullying on school campuses, especially that bullying perceived as targeting homosexual students or those with other alternative sexual lifestyle choices.
“No one supports bullying,” she said. “Every school has more than ample anti-bullying policies in place. … for GLSEN, the means by which they want to end bullying is to normalize volitional homosexual conduct.”

I doubt the parents of Eric and Carl would agree that school policies were ample enough. And Higgins misunderstands the intent of the students involved. If anti-bullying policies and programs exist, they want the policies enforced and implemented. I suspect parents and kids who are the targets of harassment want more action and less talk and intention. If Christians care, then they have to demonstrate that in some tangible way. What does it show when you leave the scene?
To those who think anti-gay bullying is no big deal, read the words of Brian Pengelly, a youth minister from Canada.

The truth is that when I was a student questioning my own sexual identity in grade 9 I was beat up because of my orientation.
The truth is that I was lucky, because compared to many of my gay friends, I got off easy.
The truth is that I have talked to hundreds of youth across North America who have been called names like “fag”, “homo”, “sissy”, “dyke” and “lesbo” every single day.
The truth is that often teachers and administrators see this happen and do nothing about it.
The truth is that many students (like me) will never report the harassment and violence they face because they are scared and ashamed. So even if and when school administration will listen, they often don’t hear about the extent of it.
The truth is that it can often be Christians who perpetrate the bullying and name-calling.
I went to a Christian school. It happened there.
This is not just my experience. This is SO common. I have seen it in schools. I have seen it in churches, I have seen it in youth groups. I have talked to HUNDREDS of young people who have told me their stories.
This is REAL.
And when Christians pretend like it isn’t, we bring shame on the name of the Lord who we claim to follow.
When we stand by and let others speak out for justice while we do nothing, we fail the Kingdom of God.
When we actively oppose, or distract from those seeking justice we prove to a watching culture that our claims to love gay people are a lie.
This is REAL. This must STOP. We are part of the problem. Change starts with us.

Brenda High, author of Bullycide and editor of the website Bully Police, has empathy for the Mohats and Hoover-Walkers. She lost her son in a similar manner several years ago. I asked Brenda what her advice is to Christians who want to make a difference on behalf of kids who experience harassment and bullying. She said,

My only advice to those who call themselves Christian is to remember that to be a Christian is to follow Christ, who said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. It’s an oxymoron to call oneself a Christian, and at the same time to profess hate towards someone because of an act, sin, or behavior that you don’t like or disagree with.
If children are being bullied on the playground or inside our school, we as adults have failed that child, and we have failed the bully too. We must teach our children Christian values and ask our schools to teach “Do Unto Others” values so that all of our children can have a safe and bully-free environment to learn.

I couldn’t agree more.

Golden Rule Pledge: How about something really different?

On April 17, 2008 thousands of high school and college students will attempt to remain silent during parts of the school day to bring awareness to bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian and bisexually identified students. In its 12th year, this student-run event, called the Day of Silence, is supported by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Some social conservative groups have advised parents either to keep their children home or have them walk out if the Day of Silence is being observed. The groups advocating the boycott are concerned that the Day of Silence promotes homosexual behavior. However, to me, the strategy seems off the mark.
I know that many evangelicals feel conflict about an event like the Day of Silence. Despite moral misgivings about homosexuality, they loathe judgmental disrespect, harassment or violence toward any one, including their gay friends and neighbors. So even though there is dissonance, I think there is something wrong with not showing up.
Are we missing a teachable moment?
What if evangelical kids and college students led the way to make schools safe for all students? Where could we start? How about on the Day of Silence?
Without altering convictions about sexuality, I propose that evangelicals should have something more to contribute than a protest toward the elimination of hostility and aggression against gay people and other people who are viewed as different. Indeed, we should be leading the way to make schools safe and build bridges to those who often equate “Christian” with condemnation.
To pursue those bridges, Michael Frey, Western PA Director for College Ministries with Campus Crusade and I are promoting an alternative. We encourage Christian kids to demonstrate the grace of Christ by pledging to follow the Golden Rule in their interactions with all students. Last year, students in over 30 high schools and colleges participated by agreeing with GLBT peers to respect each other as Image bearers of God. Students distributed pledges to honor the teaching of Christ to love as He loved and to treat others as we want to be treated.
In the process, some bridges were built. For instance, a Christian group at Slippery Rock University entered a dialogue with a gay support group on campus and helped lead a call for respectful treatment of all students on campus. Randy Veccia, student leader, said the efforts of both groups served “to raise awareness that everyone deserves to be loved.” Christian students in high schools in Greensboro, NC reached out with Good News in unprecedented ways. On the campus of Appalachian State University, Christian students took part in anti-harassment activities alongside students from the GLB support groups on campus.
Rev. Bob Stith, Gender Issues Strategist for the Southern Baptist convention had this to say about the Golden Rule Pledge:

Several years ago I stood outside a church which was being picketed by two very vocal and rabid “Christian” groups. Also standing on the sidewalk were some young lesbians doing their own picketing. The first group became more and more vocal in their opposition and insults. They began telling the young women how despicable they were and how God despised them.
At that point I walked over and told the girls, “I am a Christian and I do believe the Bible says homosexual behavior is sin. But I want you to know what these people are saying is wrong. I want to apologize to you and tell God does love you very much. Don’t ever let anyone convince you He doesn’t.”
I have long thought Christians were missing a great opportunity by not being more vocal in helping to make our schools safe places for all kids. It doesn’t require that we compromise our beliefs. Indeed it can give us a great opportunity that we might not otherwise have.
What a wonderful opportunity to express our convictions in a way that is positive, loving and redemptive. What a wonderful opportunity to train our children to care about all people, to model the example of Jesus and the woman at the well.
Who knows but what this could even be the beginning of a movement that will turn the tide of school shootings and violence in the hallways?

I hope you are correct, Bob.
In most schools this year, the Day of Silence is slated for April 17. Students and leaders can learn more about the Golden Rule Pledge by going to the Golden Rule Pledge website: www.goldenrulepledge.com or contacting me at warrenthrockmorton@gmail.com.