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On the Day of Silence, Let's Make Sure Schools Educate, Not Discriminate

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April 16, 2010

Today is the Day of Silence, an annual, student-led day of action involving hundreds of thousands of students around the country. The students who participate take a day-long vow of silence to reflect the bullying, harassment and discrimination — in effect, the silencing — of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in America’s schools. (If you’re a student participating in the Day of Silence and are getting flack from your school, find out about your rights and how you can get help here.)

This year, we at the ACLU have an especially poignant reminder of the kind of discrimination LGBT students still face. Constance McMillen’s high school refused to let her bring her girlfriend or wear a tux to prom, and when we reminded the school of her constitutional rights, school administrators canceled the prom rather than let her attend. During a hearing in which a federal court judge found that the school had violated Constance’s rights, her school claimed that she’d be welcome at the off-campus private “prom” being organized by members of the community. When she arrived at that prom, however, she found only a handful of students, most of the rest of her classmates having secretly gone to another event in a neighboring town rather than go to a dance with a lesbian couple in attendance.

The sad fact is that LGBT students face this kind of discrimination and prejudice at school every day. A recent GLSEN survey found that nearly nine out of ten LGBT students reported being bullied or harassed at school. A third said they’d been physically attacked for being LGBT. This climate of hostility in school hallways leads to lowered GPAs and higher drop-out rates among LGBT students who are harassed. It even discourages many from going to college.

I know we can’t all take a vow of silence today — I know I wouldn’t be able to get way with a day spent silent at work — but we can all do something to support LGBT students: Urge Congress to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act. This legislation would specifically prohibit the kind of discrimination faced by Constance and millions of students like her every day. It would be the first federal law to require that public schools ensure that LGBT students are safe and respected (and provide remedies for students when schools fail to live up to their responsibilities).

We all know how teenagers like to talk. Hundreds of thousands of them will stay silent today to support their LGBT friends and classmates. That’s how important this issue is to them. I hope that you’ll honor their commitment by taking five minutes to ask your representatives in Congress to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act. We can’t go back and undo what Constance’s school did, but we can make sure that no student ever has to go through it again.

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