Not Happy
Protest targets bias against gays

By Garrett Tallent
TEEN PAGE REPORTER

Teen-agers tend to pick on each other for absolutely no reason, other than to somehow better themselves at another's expense. Teens get picked on for appearance, age and often, their sexual preference.

On April 10, teen-age students across the nation participated in a "Day of Silence" program to raise awareness of the discrimination and harassment experienced by many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gender teen-agers in their schools, homes and communities. The program is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Teens who participated in the Day of Silence agreed to remain silent for the entire day. When they were spoken to, they simplyhanded out a card that explained their reasons for not speaking. And if a teacher called on them in class, they wrote out their response.

"America as a society is a little reluctant to discriminate against people because of their ethnic background, but simply because of Judeo-Christian morals we think it's fine to discriminate against people simply because of their sexual preference," said John Carespodi, a student at Reynolds High School.

John did not know about the Day of Silence program in advance, "or else I would have done it," he said. But he said he realizes that there is a need for this kind of hatred to end.

In a study of gay youth suicides, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that gay and lesbian youth account for about 30 percent of all teen suicides.

Matthew Hill, the founder of Reynolds High School's Gay Straight Alliance, conducted an informal survey of his own. From March 26 to April 12, Matthew recorded all the derogatory, homophobic comments he heard. He said he heard an average of six a day and suspects that there were many more that he didn't hear himself.

In a related survey by Rachel Price, the president of West Forsyth High School's Gay Straight Alliance, the daily average was 25 to 28 derogatory statements about homosexuality. In North Carolina, there are a total of 13 registered Gay Straight Alliances, three of which are in Winston-Salem.

When asked how the Day of Silence project affected her personally, Price said: "It felt very empowering, and it was great because it involved everyone. It's hard to imagine what unopen gay and lesbian youth face about who they are until you experience it first-hand. I think the Day of Silence helped me to better understand."

Matthew also found the experience worthwhile. "The harassment sometimes gets to be too much to handle, and I start to doubt my self-worth, so I think the Day of Silence project was an excellent idea," he said. "It was hard to not speak at harassment, though."

Caitlin Wheeler, a student at Reynolds, said that it was "extremely difficult" not to talk for an entire day. But it was worth it, she said.

"On a daily basis you can hear, in just about any high school in America, a variety of generalizations and homophobic comments that hurt and cut down the self-esteem of gay youth all across the nation, and it gets on your nerves even if you're not gay to hear closed-mindedness," she said. "Most of the things you hear at school aren't even directed toward anyone. Its mostly just stuff like, 'quit acting like a fag,' and other ignorant comments like that, so the Day of Silence was the best experience I ever took part in, and maybe it will make a difference."

Garrett Tallent is a freshman at Reynolds High School.

For more information,visit the GLSEN Web site at www.GLSEN.org or the Day of Silence site at www.dayofsilence.org.

 

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