April 19 is the annual Day of Silence, when gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students (and their straight allies) refrain from speaking the entire school day in solidarity against name-calling, harassment, and bullying. Sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Day of Silence has grown exponentially since 1996, when it started on the campus of the University of Virginia. Today, it now includes hundreds of thousands of students in nearly 8,000 middle and high schools, according to 2008 figures published on GLSEN's website.
With the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in American society, Christians are faced with the dilemma of how to respond. Over the years, I have witnessed a number of reactions from Christians.
The first action is for parents to simply keep their children home for the day. In my view, parents who take this hardline stance may actually be doing a disservice to their kids. While this may insulate youth from exposure to possible gay activism in their school, it does very little to help prepare young people for how they should respond to this growing phenomenon.
The second response usually involves Christian students engaging LGBT youth in some kind of discussion about homosexuality. In fact, a Christian alternative sponsored by Focus on the Family titled "Day of Dialogue" has emerged in the last few years in the effort to provide such a venue. Held on April 18, this day encourages (according to their Facebook page) Bible-believing students to share " the truth about God's deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality."
The problem faced by Christian and LGBT students is that too often, these competing days become a source of tension between two different worldviews. Instead of focusing on bullying prevention, a shouting match usually ensues about the etiology of homosexuality, from both sides, where no one really listens to each other, and everyone loses. So how should Christians respond?
The answer is not easy. I struggled with this question for many years myself, because I am a former homosexual now happily married to a woman with three children. I also advocate for the rights of former homosexuals to share their stories and philosophy in the public sector. As a Christian, I adhere to traditional sexual ethics regarding homosexual behavior, but I'm also a psychotherapist that sees quite a few gay and lesbian clients who are active in gay relationships. This sounds complicated, right?
Actually, it's not. My opinion on LBGT bullying prevention has evolved over the years not because of ideology, or the science that shows that some homosexual people can and do experience change to heterosexuality – but because of love. As a parent of small children, I could not imagine sending them into a school environment that tolerates insults and name-calling towards a group of human beings. Politics aside. Religion aside. Science aside. It's just plain wrong!
I once lived a gay life. I know first-hand what it's like to be made fun of and bullied because of my sexual feelings. I was humiliated in middle-school when rumors spread that I was gay. Terrible names followed me for years in my very small town. I remember times when I cried in the bathroom stall simply to hide from the pain of rejection. It was awful!
Taking all of this into consideration, I also recognize that some Christians may be weary of supporting the Day of Silence because explicitly or implicitly, they may end up supporting gay rights in the process. However, let me offer another perspective.
What if your son or daughter experiences same-sex attraction and you don't know it? What if a nephew or niece, or another relative, is suffering in silence and doesn't know what to do? Chances are, you are somehow connected to someone who is either struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction, or identifies as gay. How would you feel if classmates hurled hateful slurs towards your child and you didn't even know it?
So what should Christians do? Parents would be wise to instill values of empathy, love, and respect in their children on this day, rather than pretend the event doesn't exist or protest at home because of philosophical or theological differences. Parents, find a local of Day of Silence event and attend. Listen without judgment, and see beyond the children's homosexual feelings. Look into their heart. Listen to their story. Understand what they've been through, and empathize with their pain.
Straight students, join your fellow LGBT classmates and pretend, for one day, that you have homosexual feelings. Just for one day, walk in their shoes and imagine how it feels to be harassed and insulted because of your gender non-conforming behavior. As you tape your mouth shut, close your eyes and step into the shoes of someone who has been hurt for something they didn't choose. Remember, no one simply chooses to have same-sex attractions; it is the result of many factors.
It doesn't mean you have to endorse your classmates' sexual feelings or behavior – in fact, your willingness to surrender your own judgment and preconceived notions about LGBT people, and love them unconditionally even for one day, may be the greatest sacrifice you could ever make for them. After all, isn't that what Jesus did for all of us?