Broward County School Board recognizes Day of Silence
The Broward County School Board took a step forward in affirming the safety and well-being of the county’s LGBT students by passing its second-annual resolution in full support of countywide recognition of the Day of Silence on Tuesday, March 2.
The resolution, sponsored by board chair Jennifer Gottlieb, is only the most recent example of how the county continues to take the lead in statewide efforts to curb prejudice and harassment in the classroom. Broward also plays host to an annual Equality Florida-sponsored leadership summit which allows students to share organizing strategies about how to bring home to their own gay-straight alliance organizations statewide.
"I think of Day of Silence as a peaceful awareness campaign to insure a safe learning environment for our students," Gottlieb said. "We’re about letting our kids be who they are, educating them and giving them an environment to learn and grow. I think that’s what these initiatives help to foster for our students."
Gottlieb said her county’s gay-affirming actions have not gone without "push back" from some area residents who say the Day of Silence is an example of "immoral teaching" in public schools. She said this reaction speaks to the day’s role in countering lingering stereotypes. And Gottlieb hopes more Florida schools would allow LGBT students and their friends to organize and socialize.
"This is something we need to talk about," Gottlieb added. "School is supposed to be a safe haven. That’s where our students spend most of their time and life, and if they don’t feel safe there, and are bullied by peers or teachers, that’s unacceptable. That’s why we’re trying to be proactive here."
Michael Farmer, GSA network coordinator for Equality Florida, noted the Broward County’s resolution, in addition to its comprehensive anti-bullying policy, remains an important model for other counties to follow. Farmer currently works with an estimated 107 school GSAs around the Sunshine State.
"These groups create an institutional power structure that supports gay students, giving them an extra boost to live openly and participate in actions like Day of Silence," he said.
Advising students to work closely with school administrators, Farmer has observed problems sometimes arise in more conservative parts of the state where students tend to reflect the political attitudes found within their school districts, but he hopes other counties will follow Broward’s lead.
"Students unfortunately don’t often consider doing actions in more conservative places," Farmer said. "And that’s why it’s important for districts to step up as Broward County has in passing this resolution."
Other administrations have not been as supportive of LGBT student organizations in recent years, causing the ACLU of Florida to step into the fray on behalf of students looking to organize.
The Nassau County School Board faced a motion for summary judgment from the ACLU last week in response to Yulee Middle School’s attempts to thwart student Hannah Page’s efforts to create a GSA. Similar cases against high schools in both Yulee and Okeechobee have successfully set precedent for older students to organize around LGBT issues, but opponents argue middle school students are too young to follow suit.
Robert Rosenwald, director of ACLU Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project, said the Yulee Middle School’s reluctance stands against their progressive anti-bullying policies which enhance punishments for bullying against students’ sexual orientations. He hoped the school would follow the example put forward by its own students.
"These students are paying the price because of their school’s refusal to talk about something so clearly addressed in its own policies," Rosenwald told EDGE. "In this case, the school’s administrators are the problem rather than the solution. I think [the school] could learn an important lesson from their younger students."
Rosenwald feels school administrators statewide will grow more accepting of LGBT student organizations as they continue to educate themselves on the needs GSAs help to meet for all students. Studies have shown LGBT student advocacy leads to higher grades, better school attendance rates, increased feelings of safety and fewer suicide attempts.
"There are positive attributes to be associated with advocacy and the need is clear," Rosenwald added.
The Day of Silence is slated to be recognized by thousands of participants in schools nationwide on April 16. The day’s mission is to raise awareness of the harassment, abuse and silencing of LGBT students.