Students Show Courage in Face of Injustice on National Day of Silence

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about nonviolent resistance, he didn’t mince words about the courage it requires. It is “not a method for cowards,” he wrote in Stride Toward Freedom,” the story of the Montgomery bus boycott. He added, “This is ultimately the way of the strong man.”

Those words are especially worth remembering today, the National Day of Silence. Across the country, students are taking a vow of silence to call attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment.

The bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students is a severe, nationwide problem – one made more difficult by the reluctance of many school districts to take strong steps to prevent it. Nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment in 2009, according to a survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which sponsors the National Day of Silence. These findings were tragically underscored last September when four young men in four different states died by suicide after being harassed by classmates because they were gay or were perceived to be gay.

Despite the devastating consequences of anti-LGBT bullying, taking a stand against it often requires great courage by students. Even when students have supportive teachers, they may worry their participation will make them a target for bullying.

There’s also pressure from outside the school environment. Some organizations have attempted to mischaracterize the National Day of Silence as part of some “gay agenda.” One group, called SaveCalifornia.com, called on parents to keep their children home today to avoid “brainwashing” and “in-your-face sexual indoctrination.”

The campaign of defamation against the LGBT community, which has been accused of everything from pedophilia to helping orchestrate the Holocaust, has consequences. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent analysis of FBI hate crime data found that LGBT people are far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States.

But there’s good news. Opinion polls show solid, and increasing, public support for equal rights.

At the SPLC, we’ve been heartened by the overwhelmingly positive response to our Teaching Tolerance documentary Bullied, designed for both classroom use and professional development for educators. We’ve distributed nearly 50,000 copies of the film and its educational guide since its release in September. The SPLC and other organizations also have hosted screenings in communities across the country, including one in Minneapolis attended by more than 2,000 people.

The Minneapolis event was particularly moving because a nearby school district had been wracked by several student deaths. Community advocates said some of these students had suffered anti-LGBT bullying.

People are recognizing the destructive power of such bullying. They are finding the courage to take a stand against it. And they are finding others standing with them.

But much work remains. The SPLC is dedicated to defending the rights of LGBT students. It’s why we call out those who foment hate against the LGBT community. And it’s  why we are committed to raising awareness about anti-LGBT bullying and bigotry.

Taking a stand against injustice often takes great courage. Let’s recognize the courage of these students as they stand in silent solidarity today. And let’s dedicate ourselves to standing with them.