Tolerance and Empathy Go a Long Way

Lamplighter Staff Editorial


Josh Shipman was a student at Dunbar in 2006. He took his own life after severe bullying because he was openly gay.

There are 365 days in a year — 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, 31536000 seconds, and out of all those hours, the LGBTQ community only asks for 24.

The Day of Silence was first started in 1996 at the University of Virginia by an undergraduate named Maria Pulzetti. The creation of this annual observance was a result of a class assignment based on non-violent protests. Pulzetti wanted a visible way to bring allies of LGBTQ community together as well as to spread an anti-bullying message. It had over 150 student participants in the first year. Following that year, it became an international event with almost 100 colleges and universities participating. After a lot of hard work by Pulzetti and fellow students, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) became the official sponsor of the event in 2001. Since then, the event has become the largest student-led action to address safety in schools.

Now, schools from across the country, and even internationally, participate in the event. In addition to students, public figures like Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, and Tyler Oakley, a YouTube personality, have acknowledged their support of the day.

Students who participate pledge to withhold speaking during the school day to symbolically let those who are discriminated against know that they are not alone, and that they do not have to suffer in silence. It promotes action to be taken against ALL bullying and harassment, but specifically to people in the LGBTQ community.

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School has been a participant in the GLSEN Day of Silence for the past 10 years, and each year the participation numbers vary. In the past, there have been over 50 participants, with many more who do not actively participate, but who support the endeavor.

According to Lamplighter Social Media Editor, Marshall Fields, there are some who are confused by the meaning of the day. Even those who identify as gay.

“When I was in the closet, I felt as if by participating I was giving up my ‘straightness.’ I felt by saying that I support it, that I am it. But, as I accepted myself, I accepted the symbolic meaning behind the day because I got to experience both sides. The silence of being straight as well as the silence of being gay. On both sides I suffered, but on both sides I persevered, and that’s what the day is all about, perseverance.”

The Lamplighter respects the voices of all people and all groups. Our mission is to give a voice to the students who may feel like they do not have one. Our motto, “Illuminating the news for the students, by the students” shows that we, as an organization, bring students news about all aspects of our school community. This editorial addresses the discrimination we, the editorial board of the Lamplighter, noticed against people of the LGBTQ community at Dunbar.

We believe that The Day of Silence is appropriate for the school day because it is not disruptive, and it supports a positive message. And Dunbar has a serious history of students who not only have experienced this bullying, but who, unfortunately, took their own lives as a consequence.

On both sides I suffered, but on both sides I persevered, and that’s what the day is all about, perseverance.”

— Senior Marshall Fields

Josh Shipman was a 15 year-old student at Dunbar High School when he committed suicide in October of 2006. By all accounts, he was a smart and outgoing student with a full life ahead of him. The fact that he was openly gay in high school, and that he experienced heavy bullying and harassment, pushed Josh to the breaking point. His story is documented in the film Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got us All Tied Up, which also features the Dunbar memorial garden dedicated to several students, including Josh.

The Lamplighter reported on Josh’s life and death when it occurred in 2006, and that is when the staff adopted our inclusivity policy which states: “The Lamplighter reports on all groups, organizations, individuals and events regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual identity or orientation, or political views.”

Sadly, we have found that bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students is not an issue that has not been effectively resolved in the past 10 years at Dunbar. It is a real and ongoing problem that can have devastating results. This is why the Lamplighter strives to give a voice to all students.

Because this topic as a whole is controversial, we understand that not everyone feels the same way.

For instance, a student publicly announced her concerns on the Day of Silence by posting on Facebook: “Today at school we have our day is (sic) silence for LGBT students. Students pledge to be silent for those students in support. Today, I will speak for all the Christians around the world who aren’t given a voice and that the world doesn’t want to hear. Today, I speak out against LGBT rights and beliefs. If you don’t agree with me, I am not sorry, that’s a conversation you will have to have with God.”

Although we understand this student’s position and respect the right to free speech, we do not agree that the ideals behind the Day of Silence should be an alienating or divisive force in our school–just the opposite. Just as we cover every group from FCA to GSA, our hope is that tolerance and empathy for others is the message that is promoted at Dunbar.

The Student Handbook  states that bullying will not be tolerated. In fact the consequences are quite serious: one offense of bullying/harassment is given one day of SAFE. The highest level of punishment is 10 days of TAP and a recommendation for alternate replacement. Dunbar’s stance on this issue is clear: discrimination is not tolerated.

Our hope as Dunbar’s student media editorial board is that we can help to promote an understanding of all groups and all people without truly silencing anyone.