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National Day of Silence met with local protest
National Day of Silence met with local protest
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Mahatma Gandhi, a legendary non-violent human rights activist, once said, "Modern civilization has taught us to convert night into day and golden silence into brazen din and noise." For the past 13 years, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has set out to prove that theory.

Today hundreds of Washington state middle school, high school, and college students joined thousands of their counterparts around the country in observing the National Day of Silence by taking some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to anti Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) name-calling, bullying, and harassment.

National Day of Silence is a student-created and student-led event which is sponsored nationally by GLSEN, a leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for students. The event is designed to illustrate the silencing effect that bullying and harassment of LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT has.

"The Day of Silence is a positive event during which students bring attention to the pervasive problem of anti-LGBT bullying in our nation's schools, a problem far too often ignored," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "It is inspiring to see so many young people take action to make their schools safer."

Students typically participate by remaining silent throughout the school day unless asked to participate in class.

Not everyone is onboard with National Day of Silence. Although GLSEN does not report any students being suspended or asked to leave campus, the nonviolent, peaceful demonstration is met with opposition.

Locally, Mount Si High School reportedly called the police Tuesday after Patricia Hutcherson, wife of notorious anti-LGBT Pastor Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Bible Church (ABC), and other ABC church members were found handing out flyers at the campus parking lot encouraging parents to keep students at home during the Day of Silence.

"The ABC members who helped Patricia Hutcherson hand out the flyers are parents whose students attend Mount Si," confirmed Rachel Whaley, assistant to Pastor Hutcherson. "They passed the flyers out on public property."

The Hutchersons also took out a full-page ad in the Snoqualmie Valley Record with the same text as the flyer on Tuesday said Whaley. The Hutchersons paid for the flyers and newspaper ad with their own money, she said.

The flyer did not come as a surprise to local high school senior and Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) officer Caitlin Donnelly, who said Hutcherson protested the National Day of Silence last year at the school.

Donnelly said the Mount Si administration is supportive of the GSA and was upset the flyers were being passed out on campus.

"This year, we plan on having a big turnout for participation," said Donnelly. "We already have 75 students signed up for the event." Donnelly said last year's participation centered around 200 students, a number GSA is hoping to beat this year - even when faced with the prospect that some students may not show up to class in counter-protest.

According to a GLSEN and Harris Interactive report, two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression.

During the organization's most recent survey of more than 6,000 students, they found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. Nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed while about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted.

GLSEN officials said some students this year are holding the Day of Silence in memory of 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover. The Springfield, Mass. student took his life April 6 after enduring constant bullying at school, which included anti-LGBT attacks. Today, Carl, who did not identify himself as Gay, would have turned 12.

To bring further attention to this problem, many students will hand out speaking cards on the Day of Silence, which read:

"Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, 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."

For more information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.

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