Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Day of Silence Draws Fire from the Religious Right

Friday, April 15th was the National Day of Silence, an annual event sponsored by GLSEN in which students take a day-long vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying. Given the pervasive anti-LGBT bullying reported in schools, as well as numerous high-profile cases of LGBT youth suicides linked to bullying, the Day of Silence is more relevant than ever.

Unfortunately, some Religious Right groups have used the Day of Silence as an opportunity to disparage the LGBT community and downplay bullying against LGBT youth. People for the American Way highlighted these efforts in their recent article, "Big Bullies: How the Religious Right Is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids." I'd also like to list some of the Religious Right counter-initiatives on the Day of Silence to remind readers that homophobia and transphobia are very much alive.

First, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) called a House Judiciary Committee hearing on defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) entitled "Defending Marriage." Held on the same date as the Day of Silence, the hearing featured "expert" witnesses such as Marriage Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The ACLU issued a statement criticizing the hearings for using scarce resources to defend a "discriminatory and unconstitutional law." Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued a statement on the hearing, condemning DOMA and asking why some members of Congress fixate on discriminating against LGBT people. Commentators at Wonk Room, Daily Kos, and Lez Get Real noted the anti-gay and anti-Obama rhetoric from some voices at the hearing. On a bright note, Maggie Gallagher was awarded the first annual "Anita Bryant Unparalleled Bigotry Award" by representatives of GetEqual en route to the hearing.

Second,over thirty Religious Right groups -- including WallBuilders, the American Family Association, the Liberty Counsel, and several regional branches of Concerned Women for America -- endorsed the Day of Silence Walkout. The Day of Silence Walkout website describes its efforts as a way to "depoliticize" the learning environment by helping parents oppose the "hijacking of the classroom for political purposes." Parents are encouraged to keep their children out of school on the Day of Silence and write to administrators at schools that permit students to take vows of silence that day. Parents are also enjoined to tell their children that homosexuality is supposedly not an innate identity, "freely chosen" homosexual behavior is immoral, disapproval of LGBT people is allegedly not equivalent to racism, ad nauseum.

Third, in response to the Day of Silence, Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defense Fund have designated April 18th their "Day of Dialogue". According to the Day of Dialogue website, the event is an opportunity for Christian students to profess their faith and promote heteronormative relationships. For instance, the website's guiding principles state that God designed marriage as a union of a husband and wife, and also designed men and women to be different and complimentary. The FAQS section of the website offers insight into the mentality that produced the Day of Dialogue:
As a high school or college student, it can sometimes feel discouraging when controversial subjects like homosexuality are brought up in your school—and the conversation seems stifled, one-sided and doesn’t allow free room for discussion. It’s not unusual for students to often feel like their deeply held beliefs—including the deepest truths of Christianity—are being mischaracterized.

Wish your classmates could hear more of the story—like the truth about God’s deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality? Wouldn’t it be nice if a deeper and freer conversation could happen?
Instead of identifying homophobia and transphobia as forms of intolerance, the Day of Dialogue and the Day of Silence Walkout frame them as mere differences of opinion in a public discussion. The fact that homophobia and transphobia are corrosive to the well-being of LGBT youth is not discussed.

Right-wing challenges to the Day of Silence were not limited to the events above. Many more Religious Right and right-wing groups lambasted the Day of Silence.

  • Right Side News posted a sarcastic editorial on the event, taunting gay men about wearing lipstick, joking that the Day of Silence was mandatory, and even throwing in a tasteless N*MBLA joke.

  • According to articles at OneNewsNow and Christian News Wire, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) encouraged students, parents, and teachers to distribute "ex-gay" literature at schools on the Day of Silence. Regina Griggs, executive director of PFOX, accused "homosexual activists" of trying to "censor the ex-gay point of view." Truth Wins Out and Right Wing Watch posted scathing commentary on PFOX's tactic.

  • Linda Harvey penned a column for World Net Daily, calling the Day of Silence "dumb" and accusing it of utilizing "manipulation, propaganda and social engineering." Equality Matters criticized her column in an April 11th post.

Implicit in many of these efforts are assumptions that anti-LGBT Christians are allegedly being silenced, Christianity is incompatible with support for LGBT youth, and most glaringly, LGBT identities are somehow immoral or abnormal. The idea that one can be both a Christian and LGBT is alien to these figures, as is the idea that LGBT youth deserve respect and safe spaces.

Fortunately, for every anti-LGBT voice condemning the Day of Silence, there are other voices calling for an end to anti-LGBT bullying, even if those voices speak with silence. Let's support efforts to end anti-LGBT bullying and work toward a world that is safe for LGBT youth.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Huffington Post: On Anti-Bullying 'Day of Silence,' the Religious Right Cheers on the Bullies

Religion Dispatches: Day of (Anti-Bullying) Silence Shows “Pro-Family” Activists to be Anti-Gay Bullies

Gaytheist Agenda: National Day of Silence 2011

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Day of Silence: THIS Is What It's All About

Right Wing Watch: "Ex-Gay" Activists Want to Crash the Day of Silence

Right Wing Watch: Staver: Stop "The Intolerance Promoted By The Day Of Silence"


  1. How very sad. Can you imagine the outcry that would emanate from the Religious Right if the LGBT community and its supporters staged similar events and "dialogues" and wrote demeaning articles about Christians on a Christian holiday? They would be outraged by our "insensitivity." *sigh*

  2. I'm always amused by the RRRW nuts who claim it's "disruptive" for students to be silent for one day. Since when do teachers ever complain about students sitting quietly in school? How can students being silent disturb the studies of others?

    Why don't the wingnuts preach the same about the "pro-life" Day of Solidarity? If it's so politicizing and disruptive for students to stay silent for one day in order to call attention to the bullying of LGBT students, then why isn't it the same for them to do so in order to call attention to their stance on abortion?

    "Wish your classmates could hear more of the story—like the truth about God’s deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality? Wouldn’t it be nice if a deeper and freer conversation could happen?"

    Sorry, "You're a disgusting pervert, god hates you and the only way we'll stop pestering you is if you pretend to be straight" is not a loving message. It's just another example of the bullying the DOS is designed to call attention to and reduce.

  3. Cognitive Dissenter -- Precisely. It's not bigotry if THEY perpetrate it. I really worry about the corrosive impact of these efforts on LGBT kids.

    Buffy -- You're absolutely on-target. It's odd that the Day of Silence is offensive to Religious Right types but the Day of Solidarity is not. Sadly, they can't (or won't) recognize the negative impact of their efforts on LGBT youth.

  4. Yeah, these poor Christian kids are just being abused by a liberal society. Those evil gay kids crying and getting emotional every time somebody tells them they're going to hell for their sins, reminding them perhaps that their own parents do not accept them for who they are, are just playing dirty.

  5. Macha -- Welcome! I agree wholeheartedly -- these anti-LGBT efforts conveniently forget who the real victims are.


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