As many of you may know, this past Friday was recognized by many as a Day of Silence, which was created by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). This Day of Silence was intended as a way to acknowledge the bullying that LGBT students regularly endure; its observance was to be made by students remaining silent for all or a portion of the school day. In my mind there could be no more passive, peaceful, or effective way to bring attention to some of the most disgraceful behaviors exhibited in our modern society against many of its most vulnerable members.
I am very ashamed to say that, at one local school, this attempt failed due to what I can only suggest is a lack of leadership – and that is in fact the kindest term I can fathom.
At this high school, located just south of Greensboro, students had intended to recognize this day by making a single table available in the cafeteria, through all three lunch periods, at which any student who desired to show support and solidarity with their LGBT peers could sit in silence. This was not an unreasonable thing to request, and the administration could so easily have accommodated it. What actually happened was several things, the first of which was that at least one student misunderstood the observance of this event to be that all students would be required to participate in some period of silence. This student posted a rather vindictive polemic on social media which quickly turned into volleys of accusations, criticisms, and diatribes. Some of these were thoughtful and some were crass. The most hurtful came from those whose opinions were strongly opposed to even the existence of such an event, and whose prose was predictably couched in terms either religious or pseudo-scientific.
It is ironic in the extreme that an event which was designed to illuminate the problem of LGBT students being the recipients of bullying and abuse in fact brought about more of those same behaviors, for what occurred was nothing less than a cloud of threats and intimidation. And, I'm sad to say, the bigots and religious bullies won the day, for there was no table in the cafeteria, no overt support shown by the administration or the school system to these students, who, I must reiterate, are among the most vulnerable, abused, and neglected among us; these students were left, as usual, twisting in the howling winds of hate-speech. What makes this doubly shameful is that there were also a number of parents involved in shouting down this undeniably peaceful observance.
We must ask the leadership at that school: do they dare to call themselves leaders if they are incapable of lifting up the least among us? I have said many times, very publicly in speech and in writing, that this school makes a strength of its diversity; I now feel somewhat naive and foolish having said that, for it seems plain to me that, to some, this term only applies to certain categories of diversity. When it comes to the tougher cases, those classes of our fellow humans who are vulnerable physically, mentally, and politically, it seems far less important to ensure that they are supported by the system, much less recognized. For my part, I am very much ashamed that this school could not summon the courage to support this worthwhile, peaceful, non-threatening, and entirely positive event. It is shameful both in terms of a failure of leadership, and also in the sense that the school should be reflective of the entirety of its community, not merely those with the loudest mouths or the biggest cudgels.
The school system provides buildings, meticulously-manicured fields, uniforms, and literally tens of thousands of dollars to support its sporting teams and other clubs and groups, but it can't even provide one single table for otherwise voiceless students during one single day of lunch? Just let that sink in for a minute – if you don't see an absurdity of epic proportions, then your senses of justice and fairness are sorely mis-calibrated.
The very silence of the polity. as evinced by their lack of positive support, spoke the loudest on that day - what a sad irony!