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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mira Loma High School and the Day of Silence

Some of you may have heard about the Day of Silence and the related events at Mira Loma High School here in Sacramento, CA. As a student there, I wanted to share the information I have gathered, and then, in a separate post, explain my opinion. In this post, I have tried to be as accurate and unbiased as possible, but if I have faltered in achieving either, please leave a comment.

The Day of Silence, according to the GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), is “an annual opportunity for students to tell their truths about anti-LGBT [Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender] bullying, violence and harassment.” This Wednesday, April 26, was the Day of Silence at my school, Mira Loma. As I entered school, I saw people wearing shirts like the ones above, or wearing rainbow colors.

Near the beginning of the day, students wearing the “Homosexuality is sin” shirts were told by the Mira Loma administration that they had the choice to either turn their shirts inside out, or accept a suspension for the rest of the day. According to one of my teachers, (see below), some members of the predominantly Eastern European Christian club had told Mira Loma’s administration about their future actions on the Day of Silence before it actually occurred. According to another of my teachers, the school administration had responded by warning the students about the possible consequences. Also, the school administration sent the teachers of Mira Loma an email with the following San Juan District regulation: “Clothing and other items worn or carried by students, including buttons and backpacks, may not: denigrate any group...”

Throughout the day, there was some discussion in my classes. One teacher called the “Homosexuality is sin” t-shirts “hateful”. A student in my English class stated that she felt like she wanted to throw tomatoes at those against the Day of Silence. However, nothing much happened (that I am aware of, at least) until the end of school.

Click to view entire picture After the bell rang, many students and faculty went to the front of the school, finding a line of protestors on the opposite side of the street whom I will call “anti-gay”; and a group on the school side, whom I will call “pro-gay”. (These labels may not be perfectly accurate, but they are as accurate as I can get without using a paragraph every time I try to reference each side.) (Note: Pictures were taken on Thursday, the day after the Day of Silence, where the same scenario was repeated.) The anti-gay group had posters such as, “One Nation Under God” and “School Bans Free Speech.” The pro-gay side had signs such as, “Gay is Okay” and “Thou shall not judge.” There was also an anti-gay van that had many signs on it, one being a picture of a male gay couple kissing with a circle and line through it, another saying “Stop the Insanity”, and more mentioning things like “Sodom and Gomorrah”. I overheard someone next to me in the pro-gay section who was looking at the signs on the van say, “Look! They forgot the ‘y’ in sodomy.” Now, on the actual Day of Silence (Wednesday), I simply observed both sides. But, on the next day (Thursday), with the same scenario continuing, outside and within school, I decided that I needed to start to interview and photograph.
Click to view entire picture.

The first girl I interviewed on Thursday (while still in class at this point) told me that she had participated in the Day of Silence because she had had friends that were targeted. When asked if she could share examples of incidences, she replied that she didn’t have any specific incidences, but just that there was a general hatred because gays were not accepted. She described the protesting as “hurtful” and said it was “targeting groups.” “They should be able to do it respectfully. Gays shouldn’t be treated any different than anyone else. They should be able to get married, and it’s their business what they do in bed.” When I asked if she would do anything differently if she were in the place of the school administration, she mentioned that she thought the school administration was handling things “really well”. Now, earlier, in this same class, our substitute teacher had given a student time to talk about the Stop the Hate day, which would occur on Friday. “If you disagree with what’s going on out there,” declared the student, gesturing towards the window, “then wear a t-shirt with Stop the Hate on it. You can even make it yourself.”

After school, I went out to the front of the school, just like the day before. There, I asked a nearby teacher if she thought it was all right for me to interview people for an article on my website. “On the opposite side of the street?” she asked. “Both sides,” I said. “Just be careful,” she answered. I tried to interview one of the actively protesting (for Day of Silence) students. The girl who volunteered to be interviewed explained that she was upset that those against the Day of Silence would bring in the Bible. She told me of a flyer that had been handed out, and I asked if I could have a copy. (Click here to view the flyer.)

I thought I should at least try to talk to one of the many police officers, but when I did, the officer (understandably) said that he needed to watch what was going on, but that I could call their media number. I also attempted to ask a school administrator if I could interview him, and he agreed. However, when I asked what his personal opinion was on this whole incident, he (in a rather frustrated manner, I thought) said that he was “just an administrator doing my job.” I thought it best to move on.

Thinking that I probably had enough viewpoints from that side of the street, I went to the other. There, I talked with one of the students who had been suspended for refusing to turn his t-shirt inside out. He told me that he had been suspended the day before after telling the principle “I have free speech and I will not remove the shirt.”, but today had stayed out of school to protest. He said that the police had taken away his megaphone, and that he and the others are just expressing their opinions. “The Bible says Adam and Eve,” he told me, “not Adam and Steve.” Another student at Mira Loma stated that there had been “fingers shown to us,” meaning that people had been flipping them off. “We harass, they say, but we are saying our opinion.” She said that they had had objects thrown at them, and that one girl had wrote an essay in a class at Mira Loma that mentioned God, but that the teacher had crossed out every mention. I knew they had attempted to pass out pamphlets, so I asked for one. (Click here to view the pamphlet.)

I went home, thought about what I had heard from both sides, and decided that I needed a t-shirt of my own, stating “Tolerance for all means everyone... even if you disagree.” When I wore it today (Friday) I think some people were unsure of what I meant, but I will explain that in my next post.

So, some people wore “Stop the Hate” shirts on Friday, as I earlier explained. This included some of the teachers. I then interviewed one of my teachers that had been wearing one of the shirts. She said that nothing like this (meaning the opposition) had happened before. Mira Loma had had the Day of Silence three or four times, she explained. “We were surprised.” When asked if she had perceived any discrimination against gays at Mira Loma, my teacher said that she had not noticed “any gay bashing”, but that there had been a gay student who had committed suicide a few years before. “I don’t know if that was from direct or indirect pressure,” she told me. Because she was wearing a “Stop the Hate” t-shirt, I asked (politely) what particularly she perceived to be hateful. She appeared slightly startled, but said that she was against any intolerance, “just like your shirt says.” Also, according to my teacher, the administration was “doing a fairly good job of it.” They had gotten police officers to keep the peace, and had tried to disperse the Day of Silence students on the school side of the sidewalk, she said. We then started talking about the email that the faculty had been sent about San Juan School District’s t-shirt policy, so I inquired as to how she felt the San Juan policy fit with the student expression section of the California Education Code (read here).

"48907. Students of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press including, but not limited to, the use of bulletin boards, the distribution of printed materials or petitions, the wearing of buttons, badges, and other insignia, and the right of expression in official publications, whether or not such publications or other means of expression are supported financially by the school or by use of school facilities, except that expression shall be prohibited which is obscene, libelous, or slanderous. Also prohibited shall be material which so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school."
She replied that the San Juan policy was more restrictive, but that someone “can’t incite problems at school.” The intent behind both is the same, she said.

You can view more pictures here.

As soon as possible, I plan to write a follow-up essay outlining the reasoning for my opinions.

(Linked at Basil's Blog, Cao's Blog, TMH’s Bacon Bits, Third World County, and Jo's Cafe.)

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