04/17/2007 07:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Surgery, Silence, and Skipping School


Six students followed 15-year-old Anthony Hergesheimer as he walked home from school two weeks ago in Pueblo, Colo. After yelling anti-gay slurs at him during several passes in their car, one of the six students got out of the car and threw an object, breaking Anthony's nose and damaging his face so much that he had to undergo surgery.

On well over 5,000 junior high and high school campuses on April 18, upwards of half a million students will take part in GLSEN's Day of Silence to bring attention to anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying, harassment, name-calling and discrimination in schools.

Why? Just ask Anthony Hergesheimer.

Anthony's story is, sadly, not all that unusual. The 2005 Harris Interactive/GLSEN report "From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, A Survey of Students and Teachers" surveyed over 3,400 students aged 13-18. The results reveal a disturbing environment for students who are LGBT.
  • The reason most commonly cited for being harassed frequently in schools is a student's appearance, as four in ten (39%) teens report that students are frequently harassed for the way they look or their body size. Right behind was sexual orientation as one-third (33%) of teens report that students are frequently harassed because they are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.
  • LGBT students are three times as likely as non-LGBT students to say that they do not feel safe at school (22% vs. 7%).
  • 90% of LGBT students (vs. 62% of non-LGBT teens) have been harassed or assaulted during the past year.

Harassment is the rule, not the exception, for LGBT students.

One of the things students participating in the Day of Silence do is hand out cards to explain why they aren't talking. These cards read:

"Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?"

Apparently some people want that silence not to end. Extremist groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and Concerned Women for America are investing thousands of dollars in campaigns led to mislead people about the Day of Silence in hopes of isolating LGBT students even further. Linda Harvey of Mission America, an extremist coalition member, says "Teenagers deserve an opportunity to study English, history, math, and science -- without being subjected to pro-homosexual proselytizing sanctioned by school authorities." Aside from the fact that this is a student-led activity (not one "sanctioned by school authorities"), Ms. Harvey has missed the whole point of the Day of Silence. Teenagers deserve an opportunity to study English, history, math, and science without being subjected to harassment, bullying and name-calling, because they simply can't focus on learning when they are afraid. That's the message of the Day of Silence. It's a lesson that every student needs to learn.

It's ironic that, in a time when the Virginia Tech tragedy has focused the nation's attention on the importance of making sure that our campuses are safe places where students can focus on learning, we have some teenagers that are seeking to reinforce the lesson of "respect for all" and some adults encouraging their kids to skip school to avoid learning that lesson. If the former prevails, future Anthony Hergesheimers will be able to walk home safely from school; if the latter prevails in teaching children that they just don't have to listen to people they don't agree with, God help us all.