Today is the National Day of Silence, a nationwide day of action (or non-action) where participants opt out of talking as a way to raise awareness about the chilling effect that anti-gay bullying has on free expression. This is the 10th year the campaign is being sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), although it’s been around since 1997.
It seems like every year there’s a new controversy.
Last year, for example, parents threatened to pull their kids from school for the day. This year some schools are refusing to acknowledge the peaceful protest despite its popularity—over 20,000 people registered with GLSEN for the cause in 2010, and, according to the organization, hundreds of thousands actually participated.
This year, the Pacific Justice Institute reportedly sent a letter to Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, warning them to be cautious about their response to Day of Silence activities. In 2010, Thurston drew criticism when the administration was accused of asking a student to remove a shirt that said “Straight Pride.” PJI, a conservative-swinging legal-defense organization, sent a preemptive letter to Thurston on Wednesday to tell administration that if they pull something similar, they’ll face legal action.
When I first read about this I didn’t know how to feel. On one hand, I can’t understand what motivates a person to wear a “straight pride” T-shirt, which is a deliberately disrespectful mockery of LGBT activism and an attempt to trivialize the group’s cause. But on the other hand, it’s a pretty straightforward First Amendment issue.
Some opinions or movements, for me, are just so based in hatred that it makes me upset to even consider them valid. But if progressives oppress the freedom of speech of groups that oppose equality, then what’s to stop those groups oppressing the freedom of speech of progressives?
Even if you oppress the action or speech, you don’t destroy the idea, and you don’t change anyone’s opinion or spark debate about a subject. But if we let the idea have a fair shot at being heard, we can dissect important issues through public discussion and maybe successfully challenge those who oppose progressive perspectives. There’s no real way to provoke change without this confrontation of the issues.
On the Day of Silence, when the point is to raise awareness about how school bullying that targets LGBT kids has a silencing effect, why would we want to silence other groups?