Activists oppose schools' "Day of Silence" for gay rights
A local pastor and anti-gay-rights activist is encouraging Snoqualmie parents to keep their kids out of school for today's "Day of Silence," a protest meant to represent the silence many gay and lesbian students feel they must maintain at school to avoid harassment. But in most Washington schools, the protest day usually passes without incident.
Seattle Times Eastside reporter
Senior Alex Sanchez and more than 100 of her classmates at Renton High School got ready for school today with duct tape, T-shirts, cards and a single-minded focus to not speak all day long — or at least until the last bell rings.
Their silent protest is part of a national movement, the "Day of Silence," which takes place at thousands of schools — including more than 150 in Washington — to represent the silence many gay and lesbian students feel they must maintain at school to avoid harassment.
It's that very silence that the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Redmond's Antioch Bible Church, can't stop talking about.
Last year's Day of Silence passed without incident at Renton High and other schools in Washington and around the nation. But Hutcherson — a parent at Snoqualmie's Mount Si High School and a prominent anti-gay-rights activist — made Mount Si the epicenter of a local protest, which drew more than 100 people.
And although Hutcherson isn't planning a rally this year, he is encouraging Snoqualmie parents to keep their kids out of school today, and has taken out a full-page ad in the local newspaper imploring them to do so.
For Hutcherson, it's personal. His efforts are focused on Mount Si partly because his children go to school there, and partly because of a year-old dispute over how he feels he was treated during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly.
A number of national evangelical Christian groups also are encouraging parents to keep students out of school today, as is the Bellevue-based Faith & Freedom Network.
"We feel it's wrong," said Faith & Freedom president Gary Randall. "It indoctrinates students in a subtle way, and it does disrupt the classroom."
Sanchez, who is straight and president of Renton's Gay-Straight Alliance, said the Day of Silence is an important event at the school, but it's never drawn any opposition that she or Joe Bento, a ninth-grade teacher who supervises the club, is aware of.
"If they don't agree with it, they keep it to themselves," Sanchez said. "They don't participate. That's OK."
At Renton High last year, students didn't talk unless they were called on by a teacher, Sanchez said. They passed cards out to friends explaining their silence, and some students also taped their mouths shut and wore T-shirts, buttons, stickers or armbands fashioned from duct tape.
Despite calls by Hutcherson for the Snoqualmie School Board to shut down the Day of Silence, the board believes students have the right to express their beliefs as long as they're not disruptive, said district spokeswoman Carolyn Malcolm. "Quite honestly, we feel that the students are protected by the free-speech provisions of the U.S. and the state constitutions," she said.
Hutcherson tracks his objections back to last year's Martin Luther King Jr. assembly at Mount Si, when he was invited to talk about his experiences growing up black in Alabama.
During his talk, Hutcherson said, two teachers interrupted and questioned how he could maintain a bias against gays, having endured prejudice himself -- a violation of an agreement he said he made with the school that his anti-gay-rights views would not be at issue.
Hutcherson's daughter has since graduated, but his son is a freshman at Mount Si. And "as long as my kids are in public school, the public school is going to have to deal with me," he said.
Nationally, students at more than 7,000 schools participated in the Day of Silence in 2008, said Daryl Presgraves, spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which sponsors the event. Last year, the event was controversial at some schools in Louisiana, North Carolina, Arizona and New York.
Presgraves said a national study showed that verbal harassment, physical harassment and assault of gay and lesbian students is a widespread problem and not widely addressed.
"The Day of Silence is about changing behavior, not changing beliefs," Presgraves said.
Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published April 17, 2009, was corrected April 21, 2009. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Rev. Ken Hutcherson was questioned about his views on discrimination and gay rights after he gave a speech at Mount Si High School. Hutcherson said he was interrupted and questioned during the talk.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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