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My Silence Will Be

My Silence Will Be

With sticky name badges reading "Silent" and "Vocal Supporter" strewn across her kitchen table, Marcel Salas learns of 11-year-old Carl Hoover-Walker's suicide -- and has a renewed passion for this year's Day of Silence.

Thursday night last week, markers and sticky name badges with the words "Silent" and "Vocal Supporter" were strewn across my kitchen table.

Each year my school's gay-straight alliance participates in the National Day of Silence by distributing stickers to students in the morning with messages that address the many ways in which LGBT students and their allies are silenced due to their sexual identity or their support for equal treatment of LGBT-identified peers. As I drew in colorful block letters, "What will you do to end the silence?" on a name sticker, I heard a news report that caused me to drop my marker and run to the television.

Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old boy from Springfield, Mass., had hanged himself after school due to constant bullying by classmates who taunted him by calling him "gay," despite Hoover's repeated assertions that he was not. His mother stated that students claimed her son acted "feminine" and "flamboyant." As the reporter began to recount statistics of the alarming suicide rates among LGBT youths due to bullying, a picture of a smiling Carl in a football uniform appeared on the screen.

As I looked into his eyes, I felt my chest tighten up with anguish, confusion, and frustration. I attempted to wrap my mind around the deep pain of an 11-year-old boy who was convinced that he had nothing more in this world to live for. Why do people perpetuate the idea that being identified as LGBT is a disparaging insult instead of accepting it as another aspect of a person's identity?

Carl, like millions of other students who stray outside of the gender-binary stereotypes of our society, often had to go to great lengths to debunk any doubts of his heterosexuality. Despite whether or not Carl truly identified as gay, the fact that being called "gay" was treated like a disrespectful accusation rather than just stating a simple fact about a person's sexual orientation is what most disturbed me.

Sadly, LGBT people continue to be stigmatized and made to feel ashamed of their identity and/or gender expression.

The tragic ending of Carl Walker-Hoover's life is yet another example of how we too often underestimate the power that our words have on the lives of others. Although physical violence inflicts pain and injuries that are visible and tangible, the turmoil that violent language induces on the human soul is not as easy to see or understand. Both the wound from a punch and the wound from a derogatory remark sting in the same way.

When a person constantly hears that he or she is weird, and unworthy of respect by classmates, the internalization of such negativity often has adverse effects, as evidenced by the nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students who have reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. Anti-LGBT language -- such as using "gay" in reference to something stupid, weird, or useless -- has been enculturated into the everyday vernacular of a large portion of America's youths. The popularity and frequency of words and phrases like "that's so gay" or "no homo" in most of our nation's schools create unsafe and volatile learning environments that thwart the academic achievement of thousands of LGBT youths.

How can one possibly want to learn if he or she feels in danger at school? When bigoted language goes unchallenged by school administration, a school climate is created where words are used as hurtful weapons rather than respectful modes of intellectual growth, which ultimately harms all students.

With Carl Walker-Hoover's birthday eerily falling on this year's Day of Silence, we all must honor his life and the lives of all people silenced by anti-LGBT harassment. As a straight ally, I know that I will never be able to understand how it must feel to have to be made ashamed because of my sexual orientation. Although I have the societal privilege for my sexual orientation to be seen as the "norm," I also know the repercussions that hurtful words have on the lives of people directly and indirectly, regardless of whom they choose to love. On that day, my silence along with the silence of thousands of participating high school and college students will not be that of fear or indifference. Our silence will impel vocal activism for LGBT safe-school organizing across the nation.

On Friday, April 17th, my silence will be deafening.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Marcel Salas