Lambda Legal Works to Ensure Students and Teachers Can Take Part in GLSEN’s Day of Silence

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April 11, 2014
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For the past several years, Lambda Legal has advocated for and filed lawsuits on behalf of students who were denied the right to participate in GLSEN’s Day of Silence, the annual anti-bullying observance in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students at their schools. Lambda Legal has developed an FAQ detailing students’ rights to participate in Day of Silence activities.

FAQ: "Day of Silence: The Freedom to Speak (or Not)"

Every year, we get reports from students across the country who are told they cannot participate in GLSEN’s Day of Silence. During the past two years, Lambda Legal advocated in more than 100 schools around the nation to support students who had initially been blocked from participating in GLSEN’s Day of Silence.

Most schools respond to our letters by respecting students’ rights to participate, although we have had to proceed to litigation. In 2012, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Maverick Couch, an openly gay junior  in Ohio who was threatened with suspension  for wearing a T-shirt bearing the message "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe," on GLSEN’s Day of Silence. Maverick won the right to wear his T-shirt to school any day he chooses. And last year, we filed suit on behalf of Amber Hatcher, an openly lesbian 16-year-old who was punished for participating in GLSEN’s 2013 Day of Silence. The school district changed its position as a result of the litigation.

But it is not just students who are subjected to discrimination for participating in or supporting GLSEN’s Day of Silence. Even when a school ultimately allows students to participate, sometimes teachers who support students as theyorganize Day of Silence activities are penalized. This past fall, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of a California school teacher, Julia Frost, whose contract was not renewed notwithstanding strongly positive reviews. Julia, an openly lesbian teacher, was subjected to considerable harassment because of her sexual orientation. She served as faculty co-sponsor of the Gay/Straight Alliance student club at her high school, and when she saw the criticism and open hostility directed at gay, lesbian and gender non-confirming students in the hallways and classrooms, including efforts to quash Day of Silence events, she helped the students understand how to make formal complaints.

We’re glad that Amber and Maverick and thousands of other students will once again be able to participate in GLSEN’s Day of Silence this year, to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. We will continue to support them, and the teachers who work tirelessly and often courageously to create a safe space for these students every day of the year.

Learn more about GLSEN’s Day of Silence.

For legal questions, please contact the Lambda Legal Help Desk, at 1-866-542-8336.