One year ago today, Jaheem Herrera, 11, hanged himself. His mother said it was because he was bullied constantly at his Dekalb County elementary school, including being called “gay.” School officials conducted an investigation and stated Herrera was not bullied at all and, in fact, when students called him gay, they meant “happy.”
Another Georgia student killed himself last October due to bullying, his parents say, including being called “gay.” They are suing the Murray County School District in Chatsworth, Ga., in U.S. federal court.
As this year’s legislative session comes to a close, there is still hope for an anti-bullying bill to pass, although it does not include specific language to protect LGBT students. However, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta), said Herrera’s death motivated him to pursue the anti-bullying legislation.
All of this information leads up to today’s National Day of Silence, when thousands of students across the nation and the world are not speaking in their schools as a way to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying.
This is the 14th year of the event organized by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network www.glsen.org.
In Georgia, 277 high schools are participating, according to GLSEN. The schools include 21 high schools in Atlanta, nine in Decatur, five in Lawrenceville and Lilburn, nine in Marietta, five in Roswell, four in Kennesaw and eight in Snellville.
Outside metro Atlanta, high schools in cities such as Woodstock, Villa Rica, Savannah, Newnan, Moultrie, Dalton, Cumming and Canton are among those participating.
In Georgia, not everyone is pleased with students taking a vow of silence for one day of the school year because, as one anti-gay activist states, it “promotes homosexuality.”
Georgiainsight.org is the website for the newsletter Georgia Insight that has been “produced and distributed for over 25 years by Sue Ella Deadwyler, who has been called by God to be a ‘watchman on the wall.’” Here’s what she had to say about the DOS:
“Parents, please warn your local school principal that the day of silence promotes homosexuality and that students and teachers may register their schools as participants without asking permission. Then, ask your principal to announce before April 16th that Georgia law allows only a minute of silence for each school day and the law will be enforced on April 16th. If students who want to pray must ‘meet at the pole’ before or after school, students who want to observe a day of silence, instead of a minute of silence, should meet before or after school to do so. That’s the only fair thing to do. To do otherwise is against Georgia law and discriminates against students who don’t want to observe a day to promote homosexuality.”
Her argument is that because state law only allows for a moment of silence at the beginning of the day to meditate, students who don’t speak all day are essentially breaking the law.
But GLSEN and participants in the National Day of Silence stress they are simply trying to bring awareness to a serious issue.
“The goal of the Day of Silence is to make schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. In a Harris Interactive study on bullying, students said two of the top three reasons students are harassed in school are actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression. Additionally, nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment at school,” the GLSEN website states.
Follow along with students participating in the Day of Silence who are tweeting their experiences today at http://twitter.com/dayofsilence. At 3:30 p.m. ET, GLSEN hosts a live tweet chat where students can share their experiences with Day of Silence organizers from across the country and also GLSEN staff members will be available to answer questions.
Here’s a public service announcement by gay pop singer Lance Bass about the National Day of Silence.