Day of Silence emphasizes tolerance of sexual orientation

By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs

I have a quote on my refrigerator that a friend gave me years ago that says: “Tolerance allows us to celebrate our differences without surrendering our convictions and to celebrate our convictions without ignoring our differences.”

I bring this up because we are approaching this year’s Day of Silence on April 25.

The Day of Silence began at the University of Virginia in 1996 in response to a class assignment on non-violent protests. Since then, more than 500,000 students in more than 4,000 K-12 schools, colleges and universities have organized Day of Silence events in order to “bring attention to the name-calling, bullying and harassment — in effect, the silencing — experienced by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students and their allies” (www.dayofsilence.org).

This year’s Day of Silence is being held in honor of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old middle school student who was shot and killed in February because of his sexual orientation and gender expression by a 14-year-old classmate with different beliefs.

I want to draw a distinction here between beliefs and behavior. Being in America, you are free to believe whatever you want. However, you are not free to behave in certain ways without consequences.

In fact, in Federal Way Public Schools and many schools in our country, it is policy to provide “a safe and civil educational environment…free from harassment, intimidation or bullying…intentional written, verbal or physical acts shown to be motivated by any characteristic of…sexual orientation, including gender identity.” Read the policy at http://www.fwps.org/info/policies/3000/3207.html.

Regardless of your beliefs, you must refrain from harassing or bullying someone else because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, just as you must refrain from harassing or bullying someone because of their race or their religion.

With four out of five lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students reporting verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school, and 30 percent reporting having missed at least one day of school in the past month due to fear of personal safety (according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network 2005 National School Climate Survey), this is not a problem that is “no big deal,” like many teens respond when told saying something like “that’s so gay” is inappropriate.

Regardless of your personal beliefs about sexual orientation and gender expression, I hope you will agree with me that no one deserves to be shot for theirs.

Students deserve to be in schools that are safe and can focus on educating our children, not in schools where tolerance is a concept but not a behavior. At a time when sexuality is burgeoning physically, bombarding youth socially and through the media, adults need to take this issue very seriously and continue to find ways to discuss how to respectfully agree and disagree with people.

Whether you or your child choose to be silent for part or all of April 25, knowing the difference between your beliefs and you behavior might save a life.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a professional life and parent coach in Federal Way. She facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth, and parenting classes at the Federal Way Community Center. Contact: comments@diligentjoy.com.

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