Today is the 18th annual Day of Silence, an activist effort designed to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying in schools and colleges. Founded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the project encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day to demonstrate the “silencing effect” that bullying and harassment has on LGBT youth.There’s nothing illegal about the Day of Silence. GLSEN notes on its website that public school students are entitled to free speech, and reminds them that they’re still required to answer a teacher if asked a question in class. The project strikes a delicate balance by focusing attention on a controversial issue in a relatively non-confrontational manner.But that’s not good enough for the American Family Association (AFA). In a hysterical email to supporters, its president, Tim Wildmon, wrote, “Parents need to let their school officials know that children are not pawns for social and political action in the classroom.”He added, “If their child’s school participates in the ‘Day of Silence,’ parents should advise school officials that their child will be absent on April 11. It’s high time to oppose this hijacking of taxpayer-funded classrooms for political purposes.”The email directs supporters to a website, “Day of Silence Walkout,” that purportedly provides parents with “resources” to fight this dastardly civil rights effort. Among the organizations it lists as supporters: Abiding Truth Ministries, founded by anti-gay preacher Scott Lively. Lively is currently being sued by Sexual Minorities Uganda for promoting human rights abuses against Uganda’s LGBT community.To call the AFA’s reaction to the Day of Silence hypocritical would be something of an understatement. Wildmon’s sudden concern over politics in the classroom is quite frankly unbelievable given the Religious Right’s attempts to turn public schools into Sunday Schools.Not all fundamentalist groups agree with AFA’s approach. Some encourage a more combative approach to the situation.Focus on the Family sponsors something called the Day of Dialogue, which was held yesterday. Despite the name, it has very little to do with actual dialogue. Students are given “Conversation Cards” to hand out to classmates.
“I believe there is a God who knows our names and who cares about the details of our lives – including our relationships, our sexuality and our souls,” the card reads. “That’s why Jesus Christ came to this earth to give His life for people like you and me – because He loves every person.”The card does state that the bearer will “stand up” for students being bullied. But given the source, this claim is hard to take seriously. Let’s remember that the Center for Arizona Policy, which is directly affiliated with Focus on the Family, recently tried to legalize anti-gay discrimination in the state.
These reactions to the Day of Silence demonstrate just how logically and ethically bankrupt the Religious Right truly is. If the values the AFA says it fights for are really so robust, then someone else’s silence hardly poses a threat to them. And yet Wildmon is so incensed, so frightened, even, by the prospect of an anti-bullying effort that he wants parents to remove their children from school for an entire day – simply because some students are choosing not to speak.But really, that makes sense. I know that my own former anti-gay views – the product of a fundamentalist upbringing – didn’t long survive my first encounters with LGBT people who told me about the effects of anti-gay discrimination on their lives.To hate someone, you have to dehumanize them first. GLSEN’s Day of Silence makes that process a bit more complicated. I think Tim Wildmon understands that.And Focus on the Family’s response isn’t any better, despite its token reference to opposing bullying. Students are certainly welcome to discuss their faith in public schools, but I suspect what Focus wants is hardcore proselytizing that will likely encourage more harassment of LGBT youth.Let he who is without sin cast the first stone: these Religious Right groups have no business lecturing anyone about inserting social and political issues in the classroom. I’ll take the AFA and Focus on the Family a bit more seriously once they stop their promotion of creationism in science classes, school-sponsored prayer, and other culture war skirmishes in schools.
Until they do that, they should put down those stones.