Hoping silence would speak louder than words, about 100 Juneau-Douglas High School students vowed not to talk during the school day Wednesday.
"We're doing this to recognize the silence gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students go through in their life in school, from harassment and discrimination and basically not being able to voice themselves out of fear of being hurt," said Coryjean Whittemore, one of the student organizers of the Juneau Day of Silence.
Another 100 students and staff members wore pink ribbons in support of the event but weren't silent, she said.
It was the second year Juneau students participated in the nationwide Day of Silence promoted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a New York City-based nonprofit organization.
After last year's event, members of two Christian churches asked the Juneau School Board to broaden the theme to a Day of Respect during which students could support a variety of causes. The School Board declined to intervene, and this year's Day of Silence was supported by the school administration and site council.
Some students, however, wore white ribbons and handed out fliers saying they were opposed to discrimination but homosexuality was contrary to the Bible.
"It was a very nice, peaceful way to respond, to make that alternative view known," said teacher Casady Herding, who is an adviser to the JDHS Gay Straight Alliance.
Whittemore and other Day of Silence participants said it's common at JDHS for students to use the word "gay" as a catch-all term for something negative, or to call students "faggots."
"We hear 'that's so gay,' or people yelling 'faggot' to other people," Whittemore said, "generally using the term to mean hateful things out of ignorance or hate."
The Day of Silence wasn't intended to promote homosexuality, she said, but to say that "school should be safe for everyone, that everybody deserves equal education."
The reaction from other students Wednesday generally was positive, and some teachers let the silent students ask questions about lessons in writing, students said.
"I didn't hear anybody make fun of it, or talk about it," said student Aaron Howard, who supported, but didn't participate in, the Day of Silence.
Carrying signs reading "Tolerance for all!!!," "Hate is not a family value" and "I'm straight but not narrow," about 20 students marched after school to the Capitol steps, where they were joined by more students and others for speeches.
Ramona Alex, one of the students who marched, said some of her friends are gay or lesbians "and I support them 100 percent. I feel that equality is a big thing. I'm totally against hate and discrimination."
The Rev. Caroline M. Bruschi, an Episcopal priest, told the crowd about three homosexual boys she knew in high school. One killed himself at age 19. Another died of AIDS. And the third, who "tried being married," came out and is living "a healthy, happy life, and the reason is he's found relationships that support him and support who he is," she said.
Student Alida Bus, speaking on the Capitol steps, said there's a lot of dissension at JDHS.
"Instead of a unified student body, we consist of different groups that can't always understand, support or tolerate other groups," she said.
Bus, who is on the girls' basketball team, said she's had to learn to adapt to different kinds of people.
"It's what makes a team, to have differences and overcome them," she said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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