Students protest hate speech with ‘Day of Silence'

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PITTSFIELD -- School campuses in Berkshire County, and across the country may be a little quieter as students participate in the National Day of Silence.

Now in its 14th year, the event has been sponsored by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), as a protest of hateful and oppressive speech targeted toward youths who are or are perceived to be gay, bisexual or transgender.

Participating students, regardless of their sexual orientation, choose to not speak for the day and instead pass out "speaking cards" that read: "Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today."

In addition to participating by silence, students at Reid Middle School have spent the week delivering public service announcements about the effects of hurtful speech.

Upon walking into school on Friday, Pittsfield High School students entered the school lobby to find another group of students in silent protest, further illustrated with wide bands of tape over their mouths. More than 100 participants came together at the high school to pass out cards, get people to pledge against using hate speech and present informational displays.

"The Day of Silence," according to a statement written by organizers at the school, "is especially relevant to our area because there is still a lot of anti-GLBTQA comments and bullying that isn't always noticed. We hope that the event will work towards ending some of the silence and hatred students face."

This week, mounting complaints of racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic insults being fired off through interactive online video games put systems like Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Blizzard Entertainment in national headlines, causing some game makers to take actions to get players to tone down the rhetoric.

In the past year, hate speech has also been highlighted in Massachusetts bullying cases which ultimately led to student suicides. Though he did not identify as gay, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a sixth-grader at New Leadership Charter School in Springfield was repeatedly taunted with anti-gay slurs and endured other forms of bullying. He hung himself at his home with an extension cord last April.

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