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Juneau School Board candidates are split over whether they would support the Day of Silence, a student-led event meant to promote tolerance toward gay students.
For more Juneau Empire coverage of the October 1 municipal elections, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.
Candidates Carl Brodersen, Bob Van Slyke, Jeremy Kerr, Will Muldoon and Louise Cornwall said they would support such an event. Candidates Julie Morris, Steve Kikendall and Bonn Trinidad were in favor of a broader "Day of Respect" that would not focus on homosexuality. The eight candidates are running for two School Board seats in the Oct. 1 city election.
The Day of Silence is a nationwide event, sponsored by the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, where students take a day-long vow of silence to call attention to the silence gay students must maintain to avoid discrimination and ridicule, organizers said. Last year's event, the first at JDHS, drew support from about 140 students.
Afterward, Chapel by the Lake and Auke Bay Bible Church sent letters to JDHS and Superintendent Gary Bader asking that the event be changed to a "Day of Respect" where every student could wear a ribbon representing an ethnic, religious or environmental persuasion.
The Day of Respect would take the focus off of homosexuality, which both churches see as immoral, church leaders said. Organizers said the Day of Respect would obscure the purpose of the event, which is to promote tolerance of gay students.
Principal Deb Morse asked Day of Silence organizers to bring their case to the School Board meeting Oct. 1 for a recommendation.
At a Monday candidate forum in the Juneau-Douglas High School on library, a student asked the board candidates how they would act if they were on the board. Brodersen, Van Slyke, Kerr, Muldoon and Morris were present at the forum.
"The basic principle is good, (changing it) dilutes the cause," said Brodersen, who attends JDHS. Long-time Alaska school administrator Van Slyke, and Yaakoosgé Daakahidi senior Muldoon agreed with Brodersen's reasoning.
"I really think it is up to you guys," said Kerr, a Catholic youth minister. "If it is what the student body wants, it should happen. As adults, we shouldn't be sticking our noses in it."
Candidate Morris, a mother of five who works for the state Department of Public Assistance, took a different tact.
"I read a proverb this morning, buy the truth, don't sell it," she said. "I don't have anything against homosexuals, but I'd vote against (the Day of Silence). It draws too much attention to one group. It separates us, not brings us together."
Another audience member questioned whether Morris was trying to further silence gay students, which she denied.
"What about Alaska Native students?" she asked. "I don't see anybody focusing on them."
"Everyday should be a Day of Respect," said Brodersen. "But, unfortunately it is not."
Reached at Tyler Rental where he is the manager, candidate Kikendall said he supports a Day of Respect, but didn't want to go into the specifics of the debate. Candidate Bonn Trinidad, a postal clerk, followed suit.
"I go with Kikendall and Morris, but I'm not going to comment anymore," Trinidad said.
Candidate Cornwall, a respite worker at REACH, said she would support the Day of Silence as proposed. In high school, she felt depressed and isolated, and had a gay friend with similar feelings who was suicidal.
"Where I am in sympathy with Julie Morris, I believe in the concept that everybody needs to be valued," Cornwall said. "I'm glad that (the students) decided to stick up for a very silent minority."
Julia O'Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.