LGBTQ students and allies organize April 21 Day of Silence to “make America gay again”


By Marcha Chaudry

As the mother of a transgender daughter and sibling of a lesbian sister, English teacher Laura Bernard knows exactly what LGBTQ students need in school—support and a safe place to learn.

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“I’ve had to fight to protect the rights of my loved ones—friends, family, and students—which is why I have been the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club advisor for the School for Social Justice (a Los Angeles public high school) four years now,” confides Bernard.

“Once you empower students you can start a movement,” Bernard says of student-led GSA clubs that work to create a network of support for LGBTQ students and a welcoming environment for all students. Studies link GSA’s to enriched academic and social experiences for gay students and improved overall school climate.

Laura Bernard shows GSA members information about Christine Jorgensen, a trans woman and veteran of WWII who became widely known for having sex reassignment surgery in 1951.

Given the wave of renewed legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community, Bernard’s students, and GSA clubs nationwide, are planning special actions for this year’s Day of Silence—a day when allies nationwide engage in silent protest to call attention to LGBTQ discrimination.

It’s called a Day of Silence because, for years, LGBTQ people were erased in history and silenced by bullying and harassment, according to GLSEN, the organization founded by teachers that launched the annual Day of Silence.

The flood of hostile bills in state legislatures, the federal government’s decision to rescind school guidance on transgender students, and the rise in anti-gay rhetoric have lit a fire in GSAs across the country.

On April 21, all four schools on Laura Bernard’s campus will take a vow of silence, totaling close to 1,000 students and staff members. Educators will teach in silence, students will learn in silence, and at the end of the day, students and staff will break the silence at a “Make America Gay Again” assembly where they’ll highlight laws that threaten LGBTQ rights worldwide. “Students have actually come out at past assemblies,” recounts Bernard.

Students in Bernard’s 2017 GSA group work on protest posters and researching LGBTQ news stories.

That same day, Bernard’s transgender daughter has a court date and hearing to change her name and gender marker on all legal documents. “She attended three different high schools and struggled for years because the laws that protect students like her are not well known or understood by educators,” says Bernard. (See new report on schools and transgender youth.)

Bernard and her GSA students will spend the rest of the year responding to overt homophobia by using Restorative Justice circles to create safe spaces for all students, developing LGBTQ discussion topics for educators, and fundraising for political campaigns to combat the new anti-gay bills.

“My experience as a mother and teacher is why I continue to resist anti-LGBT legislation,” Bernard explains. “We can’t allow homophobic rhetoric to overpower human rights.”

Find out how to start a GSA, build on your GSA’s current work, register your GSA, and celebrate various identities.

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