Students stay home to protest "Gay day"
Some students staying home to protest gay-support effort
446 comments by Emily Gersema - Apr. 24, 2008 12:50 PM
The Arizona Republic
Many students nationwide will stay silent Friday to raise awareness of bullying against gays.
Participants are likely to include 300 to 500 students at Gilbert Public Schools' Desert Ridge High School where a group leading the Day of Silence observance said staff and administrators initially barred promotion of the event.
But some parents who disagree with the annual observance are keeping their kids at home — a form of protest recommended by a national conservative coalition.
Randy Bellino, whose son is a sophomore at Desert Ridge High, said he will host a pool party and pizza lunch at his Mesa home Friday for about two dozen students who want to avoid the Day of Silence observance or who strongly disagree with it. The party will last throughout the school day.
Bellino said he will call in his son Jacob, 16, as absent from school. Jacob disagrees with the observance, Bellino said, and doesn't want to feel pressured into participating.
“Today's society doesn't care whether you're gay or not gay,” Bellino said. “If you're going to have a day of silence, have it for the (soldiers) over in Iraq.”
Desert Ridge High, a Gilbert district school located within the city limits of Mesa, recently came under scrutiny after students in the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Supporters alliance said they had been denied the right to promote the annual observance. Administrators for Gilbert Public Schools said the students had misunderstood, giving them the green light to hang posters and hand out fliers to classmates.
School districts have to walk a fine line for the annual event. By law, schools must ensure that student gay-straight alliances have privileges equal to that of any other registered student organization. Districts around the Valley are trying to maintain order. Some will avoid any tension that could arise from the observance. Mesa and Chandler are among the school districts taking a spring-break day Friday.
An organization tracking the day's observance -- the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — estimates that students at 134 Arizona schools from Flagstaff to Nogales are participating. Students at Gilbert, Highland, Higley and Mesquite High schools have said they will participate.
Students who want to participate can register with the network, which tracks the schools represented. However, registration isn't required. Participation is voluntary.
Usually, opponents of the event will try some type of counterprotest. In past years, conservative coalitions have urged them to participate in a separate observance called the Day of Truth, protesting homosexuality. This year, the coalition Mission: America added another suggestion, telling parents and its supporters to keep their children home from school.
Desert Ridge High students and staff found fliers on cars in the school parking lot, telling students to stay home during the Day of Silence. School officials removed the notes distributed by the Desert Ridge High School Parents for Truth.
School districts encourage attendance.
“Tomorrow is a regular day of school,” said Dianne Bowers, a Gilbert Public Schools spokeswoman Thursday. “We would encourage them to send their students to school.”
The day marks an educational opportunity, she said. The district participates in a character-development program, Character Counts, to teach students the importance of respect and tolerance. Students can be silent as long as it doesn't interfere with their classes, Bowers said. So students must speak to teachers when they are called upon.
The grandfather of a Desert Ridge High student recently asked Gilbert's district governing board to ensure that the high school, as well as Gilbert High, would be dropped from Mission: America's unofficial list of Day of Silence participants. Administrators have taken steps to remove the schools from the list published on the group's Web site.
Publicity over such efforts to halt the Day of Silence observance may have inspired an equal increase in opposition and participation. Joshua Judd, the acting leader of Desert Ridge High's GLAS club, said he is printing up more Day of Silence participant cards after already handing out 300.
Be who you are & say what you will,
Those that matter won't mind and those that mind don't matter.
I'm a bitter clinger, One Nation Under God.