Sometimes reading the Internet results in me wanting to soak myself in a vat of sanitizer and scrub my skin with a wool brush until it hurts.
Last week, at a Pennsylvania High School a group of students coordinated an "anti-gay" day in response to their chapter's GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) acknowledging the Day Of Silence. When children aren't being little turds, a Day Of Silence is a day spent not talking in order to reflect and meditate on the pain of LGBT youth who have suffered in secrecy. It is also a time to reflect on those who have taken their lives due to persecution over their sexual preferences. Seems pretty sweet and innocuous, right? Well, for select students at McGuffey High School in Claysville this demonstration was simply too much, as students retaliated by wearing plaid shirts and writing "anti-gay" on their hands.
Homophobic students of the school didn't stop there, though, and continued their tirade by pushing students and posting anti-gay bible verses to student's lockers. The bullying continued online by posting bible verses to Instagram and tagging openly gay students in their posts in an attempt to ridicule them. The school responded with anger to their students' open homophobia by hearing a few students directly affected speak at a board meeting. Eventually, Superintendent Erica Kolat released the following statement to local station WPXI on Friday:
Yesterday afternoon, April 16, 2015, allegations of harassment were brought to the attention of our administration. McGuffey School District, along with school police officers, continue to investigate all allegations. We will follow our Student Code of Conduct, and file legal citations, as warranted. We resolve to ensure that all children can grow and learn in a safe, supportive environment free from discrimination.
Although the school's support is encouraging, the question remains as to how this could have gone on for the entire day without intervention from school officials.
The Day of Silence came into being in 1996, when students at the University of Virginia created it after an assignment regarding non-violent protests. Since then, it has spread all over the world, catching the attention of people who wish to make the silent pain many gay people grapple with more visible. However, as peaceful and well-intentioned as that visibility may be, others felt it was a gross display of individuality. Things escalated throughout the Pennsylvania school throughout the day, the apex of the homophobia being represented by a noose hung from an American flag.
It seems like with every small step we take forward, there are still those who seek to snuff out that progress. For every person empowered by their their identity, there are those who seek to extinguish that light in them. It's difficult to say what motivates a bunch of young minds to react with such vitriol, and it's simplistic to blame it on a lack of education or to completely dump all responsibility on the parents (though they clearly have a lot of influence in the matter).
This is unfortunately not the only instance of despicable homophobia on public display these past few months. Due to Indiana's Religious Freedom bill, Memories Pizza was put on blast for being open about their refusal to cater a gay wedding. In response, supporters of the LGBT community attempted to silence the pizza parlor, and almost succeeded when they "went dark," and closed their doors. However, like a homophobic phoenix rising from the flames, bigots around the country donated their money to an Indie-gogo page created to fund the pizzeria, raising them over $500,000 over the course of a few days.
With the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage growing closer with each passing day, it's as if our society is reaching a boiling point where everyone's opinion on the matter is being heard. In many instances like this, it is the hate that is heard louder than the messages of love.
We often discuss homophobia as if it is a fleeting trend, but events like this prove differently. When I read about events like "Anti-Gay" day at McGuffey I can't help but wonder when the battle will be over. I wonder when children will actually feel safe in the schools they attend that promise to protect them. I wonder how many more acts of violence LGBT youth will have to suffer before people can see their fragile humanity. For young people out there still struggling with their identity, have patience, and for those who are still afraid of what makes others different I would implore them to understand this: you are young and the world is wide.