Thousands of students across the nation will participate on Friday in what has become known as "The Day of Silence" – a vow among students to remain silent throughout the day in recognition and protest of the perceived "silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools."
First organized in 1996 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in collaboration with the United States Student Association, the event has become somewhat of a staple throughout schools as students vow not to speak and distribute cards that urge compliance and support for homosexual students.
Conservative groups, however, have been loud in their protest against what they have referred to as an annual endorsement of homosexuality by the nation's schools – an event, they claim, that is both disruptive and inappropriate.
"It's outrageous that our neighborhood schools would allow homosexual activism to intrude into the classroom. 'Day of Silence' is about coercing students to repudiate traditional morality. It's time for Christian parents to draw the line — if your children will be exposed to this DOS propaganda in their school, then keep them home for the day," said Buddy Smith, an administrator of the American Family Association, in a statement.
In response to The Day of Silence, conservative and pro-family groups have organized themselves to oppose the event, urging parents to keep their children away from school that day in a measure of counter protest.
Mission America, among the coalition of groups opposed to The Day of Silence, offers a detailed list of schools participating in the event as well as information for parents about how they can oppose the event.
"This pro-homosexual day communicates clear (and false) messages to ALL students in the school that: homosexuality is a worthy lifestyle; that it has few or no risks; that some people are "born" homosexual, including students; and that those who oppose this behavior are hateful and uninformed," the group warns in a statement on its Web site.
"We do NOT agree. The Day of Silence is, sadly, a day of deception. The facts do not support the implications noted above. Responsible parents and communities will oppose this message of corruption and well-informed schools that really care about kids will never allow this nonsense to take place on the school campus," Mission America added.
In response to the attacks on The Day of Silence, Eliza Byard, deputy executive director of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), largely shrugged off criticism of the event.
"This is an opportunity for concerned students to speak out on the issue of violence and aggression against students based on sexual orientation or gender expression," she asserted, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
As The Day of Silence nears, many Christians remain conflicted about how to respond.
"They (Christians) do not affirm homosexual behavior but they also loathe disrespect, harassment or violence toward any one, including their GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) peers," Dr. Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of Psychology at Grove City College, explained.
Throckmorton and Michael Frey, Western PA Director for College Ministries with Campus Crusade, have helped organize a so-called alternative approach to The Day of Silence and to the conservative Christian response of pulling out their kids from school.
As part of the "Golden Rule Initiative," students will pass out cards throughout the day vowing to live in the manner of Christ's teaching to "Do to others as you would have them do to you" in reference to the passage from Scripture. The cards will ask "What are you going to do to end the silence?" In other words, what will you do to help secure a safe environment for GLBT identified students?
The initiative urges that the day be used to avoid controversy, advocate a commitment to the safety of all students, and remind others that Christianity is the religion of love.
Praising the Day of Silence alternative, Bob Stith, national strategist for Gender Issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, commented, "I have long thought Christians were missing a great opportunity by not being more vocal in helping to make our schools safe places for all kids. It doesn't require that we compromise our beliefs. Indeed it can give us a great opportunity that we might not otherwise have."
The initiative has attracted the commitment so far of 12 different schools and hundreds of students.
The first Day of Silence was held at the University of Virginia in 1996, and has since spread across the nation's schools into a yearly event.