Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Opponents of silent observance related to gays aren't keeping quiet

The following story ran today in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and was in response to this AFA Action Alert.

Opponents of silent observance related to gays aren't keeping quiet

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Some area students are planning a silent observance late this month to denounce the harassment of gays, but a national family values organization is urging parents to keep their children home that day to fight the protest.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a New York-based nonprofit, set April 25 as a national Day of Silence to bring attention to the harassment of some students by peers because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, organizers said. Participants are asked to refrain from speaking all day or part of the day and may give a card explaining why to those who ask.

But a Mississippi-based nonprofit is trying to stop the observance. The American Family Association has posted information about the event on its Web site and has circulated e-mails in recent weeks listing schools that the association says are participating.

"It's just foolishness for children to be subjected to this social activism at school," said Buddy Smith, an administrator with the association. "It is not the place for this type of educational malpractice."

Local schools

GLSEN officials said students from about 125 Texas schools have registered to participate, including those from seven Fort Worth schools and two Arlington schools. Students may register on the organization's Web site, but the group does not publish a list of participants or schools, said Daryl Presgraves, the group's spokesman.

Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth is among the schools the American Family Association listed as a participant. Principal Neta Alexander said that she has received some calls from concerned parents, but she said she is not aware of any student or group planning to participate in the effort. Alexander has asked the association to drop the school's name from its list.

She said, however, that students do have some rights to express opinions at school.

"We certainly respect the students' right to express themselves in free speech as long as it does not disrupt the education environment," she said.

"We have to handle each case on an individual basis."

Smith said the silent protest will be disruptive to teachers who expect all students to participate in class.

"It just puts an obstacle in the way of the teacher who has a job to do," he said.

Different views

Joshua Rollings, a senior at the Texas Academy of Math and Science at the University of North Texas, plans to be among the students taking part.

"I want people to be more aware of what they are saying and doing and how that affects others," said Rollings, 18, of Fort Worth.

"People should be exposed to different ideas even if you don't like it. You should hear them so you can better argue against them."

Rollings said he will maintain his silence that day because he has felt harassed because of his sexual orientation.

Eliza Byard, deputy executive director of GLSEN, said the American Family Association's message distorts the day's meaning.

"This is an opportunity for concerned students to speak out on the issue of violence and aggression against students based on sexual orientation or gender expression," she said. The harassment is "simply unacceptable, and it has to stop."

Smith said his group's efforts are intended to protect children from what he called the homosexual lifestyle.

"I would not want my child subjected to a push for a lifestyle that goes against everything I'm trying to teach my child about what is right and wrong," he said.


April 25 is the national Day of Silence. The event was organized in 1996 by University of Virginia students to bring attention to the harassment and violence some gay students face.

This year's event is in honor of Lawrence King, a California eighth-grader who was killed in February because of his sexual orientation, according to news reports. Nationwide, 4 of every 5 gay or transgender students are harassed at school, according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. GLSEN became the event's sponsor in 2001. For more information about the event, go to

The American Family Association says it has persuaded about 300 schools nationwide to ban the observance. To learn about that group's efforts, go to

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