Harassment gets the silent treatment at high school

Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2007

A day of silence to protest school bullies came to a screaming halt Wednesday in the commons of Juneau-Douglas High School.

At 2:20 p.m. 20 students gathered for a countdown to end their silence with a ceremonial yell of frustration. More than 100 students took a vow not to speak throughout the day to protest harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Organized by the Gay Straight Alliance, the Day of Silence is an annual event at the high school and the main statement of the year for the 20 students in the alliance.

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Skylar Engle, a junior and president of the alliance, said much of the student body doesn't realize the discrimination gay and lesbian students suffer at school.

"It's not always obvious," Engle said. "It's not like in the movies where you see a gay kid trapped in a corner getting yelled at."

According to Engle, old-school bullying accounts for most of the trouble gay kids encounter in school. Engle knows one friend who was "gay-bashed" away from school grounds. Fearful of retribution, that friend has kept quiet.

On Wednesday, so did those who understand his plight.

The protest comes on the heels of a new school district policy that directly addresses bullying in Juneau schools.

On Tuesday, school board member Mark Choate said most of the bullying he is aware of is focused on gay kids, or presumed gay kids.

Phil Huebschen, a junior at JDHS, said teachers respected the vow, allowing students to participate by writing on dry-erase boards or simply keeping quiet.

Engle called the day a success.

"Participation spread to members of the student body that you wouldn't think would do it," he said.

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