HIGHLAND PARK –
About 25 youth from the Ruth Ellis Center joined with an estimated 500,000 of their peers across the country Friday to take part in the National Day of Silence campaign.
Wearing signs around their necks with slogans such as, “You can’t take my voice. I’ve given it up,” and “I’m silent because I want this world to be a better, safer place,” the youth observed an hour-long silent vigil at the center’s headquarters on Victor Street, before enjoying pizza and pop for a Breaking The Silence celebration.
Though traditionally the National Day of Silence is observed in schools, that’s not a practical reality for many of the kids who visit the center, said Executive Director Grace McClelland. “Many of our young people face harassment and bullying at school, so we provide a safe space for them to mark this day,” McClelland said.
Among the participants was 15-year-old Gypsy, who recently started a Gay Straight Alliance at her school. “I know more kids in my school were doing it,” she said. “It seems like something that a lot of kids should do.”
The National Day of Silence was started by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, in 1996. This year’s campaign was dedicated to the memory of Lawrence King, an openly gay 15-year-old who was shot to death earlier this year by a classmate he was known to have a crush on at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif.
“They didn’t take enough action to keep him from getting hurt,” said Gypsy. “They would have done so much more if he had been a straight boy and that’s so wrong it’s ridiculous.”
Another of those who participated in the vigil was Angelo. The 24-year-old wore a sign that read, “Be silent for those who cannot defend themselves.”
“I’ve been coming to the center a lot since 2005, and I figured a day like today is strengthening,” he said, explaining his reason for taking part. “It gives you defense against things that people go through outside. I don’t like ignorance like that. It affects me like it happened to me when it happens to other people.”
Angelo said that while he has not been the direct victim of any anti-gay violence, he knows others who have. “I feel really sad for people who have to experience things like that,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. The way I see it, you live your life and I live mine. Why is there such a struggle for acceptance?”
HIGHLAND PARK –