I bet most of you have never heard of Day of Silence. This Friday is the one day set aside each year to remember those children, teenagers, and adults who have been bullied into silence or have taken their own lives because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In observing this day without talking, you quietly remind everyone that no one should be coerced into silence to avoid harsh treatment because one is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Whatever one’s political or religious views, bullying, mistreating, or harassing someone should never be acceptable. Teens are especially vulnerable to this sort of abuse and often will feel unable to fight effectively against it. Many will keep their sexual orientation or gender identity a secret or if discovered live a life of near constant anxiety worried that their peers will hurt them physically or emotionally. Sadly even teens who appear to be well adjusted and comfortable in their own skin will take their own lives under the pressure of the berating, negative, demeaning treatment prevalent in our society.
To give you a sense of the scope of the problems facing gay youth, a 2009 National School Climate Survey showed that in Michigan high schools, 87 percent of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth were verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation, 45 percent were physically harassed and 17 percent were physically assaulted. In contrast, when it came to race, 25 percent of teens were verbally harassed, 8 percent physically harassed, and 2 percent assaulted based on their race or ethnicity.
I encourage you to think closely about the words you choose every day. Understand that saying “That’s so gay!” in a derogatory manner may well feel like a slur to a gay teen. Understand that by referring to people who are gay as queers or fags or dykes, you are disrespecting and demeaning them. None of us would refer to an African-American person using the ‘n’ word and using derogatory terms for people who are gay is much the same.
I encourage parents to discuss Friday’s Day of Silence with your teenagers. Find out if your teen’s high school is participating in this day of remembrance and support your teen (gay or straight) in his observance of the day.
By discussing the Day of Silence, you can open the discussion about bullying in general and let your teen know how important it is to respect everyone. Careful word choice and respect may help a scared gay teen feel a little more comfortable being herself and may allow her to live a more genuine life in high school.
For more information about how to support your teenager or his friends here are some good links: