Today is this year's National Day of Silence, sponsored by GLESN. On this day thousands of students across the nation take a vow of silence to "raise[ ] awareness about the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying, harassment, and discrimination." Having worked in a school where many students joined this movement, I can attest to how powerful an event it can be. It's a powerful reminder of both positive and negative facets of human nature. Even though I now work at a school where our students do not mark this day in an outward way, I still find myself reflecting on the issues raised and why I believe so strongly in our mission and ethos.
For the purpose of this post, I'm not interested in debating any of the hot-button issues surrounding homosexuality. Even if I were, I doubt I could change anyone's beliefs, and people have the right to form their own beliefs. But I don't think we have the right to treat each other hatefully. So rather than wage an argument, I'm focused on behavior and how it affects others. My point is a very human one. We have too many people who suffer in silence. And they do so because of how others may or may not treat them. I know young people who struggled desperately before coming out, to the point of self-harm and psychological damage. It's easy to understand why. Consider how easily people use anti-homosexual terms and thoughts to deride something. Recently the news has included several stories about businesses refusing service to homosexuals, even a doctor refusing to treat the child of a gay couple. There's no telling how deep the literal and metaphorical scars go.
While this day focuses on LGBT issues, it causes me to think about other areas where the same sort of scenario plays out with both kids and even adults. Consider the stigma attached to mental illness. To lower incomes. To learning differences. To certain physical attributes. We still struggle mightily with issues of race and faith. Check out the comments sections on many media sights, and you'll quickly grasp why people might feel devalued, and even when not directly targeted. So imagine the pain when the barb is aimed right at you.
I'm not sure why this happens; it's likely that plenty of reasons come together. Surely some is limited knowledge. Some is learned. For some it is their true belief. Some people tend to fear that which is different or not understood. Stereotyping and scapegoating make the world easier to comprehend. Certainly there's also a degree of schadenfreude. Highlighting others' "issues" can help us feel better about our own. And do I really need to point out that we all have them?
It becomes a vicious cycle perpetuating hurt and hate. It's why the mission of schools such as St. John's Episcopal--and many other great institutions--is so vital. For us, it's quite intentional that our mission ends with the words "in a Christian environment." To make that notion more concrete, one of our five tenets is to be "an inclusive community where the dignity of every human being is respected." For us to fulfill our mission, we must develop both our students' minds and their spirits. We must inspire them to build up rather than tear down. Then more and more people will feel not that they have been forced into silence, but that they are valued and heard.