WMU News

Students make statement through silence

April 1, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Convinced that silence can be deafening, numerous area high school and college students will stop speaking for nine hours on Wednesday, April 9, in hopes of drawing attention to the discrimination and abuse many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender--LGBT--students experience at school.

The students are vowing to keep mum during the school day in observance of the seventh annual national Day of Silence. In addition, some teachers and school administrations are actively endorsing this symbolic day of action that promotes safer schools for LGBT students and supports those who have been silenced by hatred, oppression and prejudice.

In Southwest Michigan, many students also will attend a "Breaking the Silence" rally and march from 5:30 to 8 p.m. April 9 beginning in Rooms 208-210 of Western Michigan University's Bernhard Center. Joining them will be parents, teachers and concerned community members.

The rally will feature remarks by state Rep. Alexander Lipsey of Kalamazoo, student speakers and resource tables sponsored by various campus and community organizations. After the rally, participants will stage a pride march through campus, then hold a candlelight vigil at the Fountain Plaza near Miller Auditorium.

The educational component of this year's Day of Silence observance will continue with a free "Day of Dialogue" conference from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 12, in the University's Bernhard Center.

The conference, rally and march are being sponsored by WMU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Student Services office. Alison Alpert, a WMU graduate student from New York City majoring in creative writing, is coordinating the events as part of the second annual Southwest Michigan Day of Silence Project.

"LGBT youth are taunted, ridiculed, called names, threatened and sometimes physically assaulted," Alpert says, adding that they are frequently excluded by other students in a variety of ways and often become isolated if they cannot find a social circle of supportive friends. "For these reasons, many LGBT students who refuse to pretend they're straight or who have already been outed, drop out of high school. It's just too painful for them to be themselves."

Last year's local rally drew more than 100 people, and Alpert says attendance is expected to be double this year. She notes that students planning to participate already represent 12 schools: Gull Lake High School, five high schools in Kalamazoo and three in Battle Creek, WMU, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Linda Lumley, WMU assistant director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs, which oversees the LGBT Student Services office, says the University's ability to organize and coordinate 2003 Day of Silence events for Southwest Michigan was made possible through a $5,300 grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Equality Fund.

"Students organized a wonderful rally last year, which was the first time schools in this area participated in the Day of Silence," Lumley says. "I attended it, and I was so moved by the student testimonials and by the march that I wanted to make it possible for even more schools and more students to participate this year.

"We developed the 'Day of Dialogue' conference this year so that students, parents, teachers and other community members concerned with helping LGBT youth can spend time getting to know each other, gaining new skills and knowledge, and developing goals and action plans."

The community-focused national Day of Silence Project grew out of a "day of silence" held at the University of Virginia in 1996. Organizers say it has become the country's largest single student-led initiative aimed at creating safer schools.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national nonprofit organization fighting to end anti-gay bias in K-12 schools, became the project's official organizational sponsor in 2001 in partnership with the United States Student Association, America's oldest and largest national student organization and the recognized voice for students at the federal level.

For more information about the Southwest Michigan Day of Silence Project, contact Alpert at (269) 387-2999 or <lbgt-dayofsilence@groupwise.wmich.edu> or contact Linda Lumley at (269) 387-2995 or <linda.lumley@wmich.edu>. Those interested also may visit the Day of Silence national Web site at <www.dayofsilence.org>.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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