My Turn: Don't dilute Day of Silence - come out

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

My brother graduated from a small Catholic high school in Maine. This summer he attended his 20-year class reunion. He called and told me he took his boyfriend to the reunion and introduced him as such. No one seemed to look twice. One of his classmates attended with her "college roommate" and introduced her as such.

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After a few slips in the conversation using "we" instead of "me" and accidentally calling themselves lesbians, it became quite clear that the two were in fact domestic partners, not simply friends. Someone chose not to recognize her life partner, 20 years after high school, and it saddened me. I'm sure she still carried some fears. I'm sure she had reasons for her silence.

A generation since my brother graduated we have a National Day of Silence, an event in our universities and high schools that raises awareness of the silence chosen by and forced upon gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual (GLBT) people in our country. Juneau-Douglas High School was the first forward thinking school in Alaska to join the event. Our participation was student-originated and student-led. It made some people uncomfortable. It made everyone think about their role in perpetuating homophobia in our school. The event was a success. More than 150 students took the vow of silence and another 150 wore ribbons of support, quite a large turnout for any high school activity.

After our Day of Silence, District Superintendent Gary Bader received a few letters suggesting that the Day of Silence be converted to a Day of Respect, a more inclusive and generic recognition of discrimination experienced by students. I support raising awareness of any type of discrimination, but not at the expense of the Day of Silence. When we combine groups, we lose diversity. Homophobia is pervasive enough at Juneau-Douglas High School to require its own day of recognition. I overhear homophobic slurs daily in our high school. A student doesn't need to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to be harassed at our high school; they are threatened even if they are perceived as such. Maybe this is your kid. It is a rare and unique gay student who is comfortably outspoken about his sexual orientation. It is likewise uncommon for a straight friend to stand up against discrimination directed at a gay friend. The Day of Silence serves our community as a day to recognize the silence gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people undergo in their lives without pointing them out. We must not dilute the power of the Day of Silence by changing it to a more generic - and easy to overlook - day of respect. Silence is violence for GLBT youth in Juneau. We must make that clear by continuing our participation in the National Day of Silence as it exists.

I would like to encourage Juneau gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people to come out on National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. And straight people can say GLBT family members and friends are positive people in their lives. Homophobia ends when people begin to make that connection, when they understand and celebrate diversity. If you come out and raise awareness in the workplace then perhaps your risk will help us all. Maybe I will begin to hear less homophobic slurs in the JDHS halls. Maybe GLBT students in our schools and children from GLBT families will feel a little safer, a little stronger, and be able to focus more on their learning. Be brave and remember; if you can't say out loud the words, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, then you may want to join our Day of Silence next April.

Mary-Lou Gervais teaches math at Juneau Douglas High School and is an advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in our community.

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