Students: Gay awareness speech censored

C.P. principal says Day of Silence about broader issues
2010-04-14T00:05:00Z Students: Gay awareness speech censoredBy Carmen McCollum - carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | A couple of Crown Point High School students believe administrators are censoring them as they prepare for a Day of Silence on Friday.

During the National Day of Silence, hundreds of thousands of students nationwide will take a vow of silence to bring attention to harassment and abuse directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Sophomores Mary Catherine Lemon and Garret Hogan, both 16, contend their fliers were not approved, and Hogan said a speech he read over the intercom Monday to make students aware of the day had been revised by Principal Eric Ban.

"When I mentioned the words lesbian and bisexual in the speech, it was altered," Hogan said. "Dr. Ban said it's not just about lesbians, gays and bisexuals but all students of diversity. He mentioned AIDS victims, Muslims and black people. I believe he wanted to get around using the words gay, lesbian and bisexual. I don't think he wants to deal with radical parents calling in."

Lemon added, "That's not really what the Day of Silence is about."

Hogan's mother, Heather, said she read his speech and thought it would help open people's minds to differences in others.

"He has been treated horribly by some students," she said. "They are rude and obnoxious. He worked really hard on his speech. He was disappointed that it was censored."

Crown Point High School Principal Eric Ban said his efforts were not directed at censorship.

"We are about safe, civil and respectful behaviors," he said Tuesday afternoon.

"The Day of Silence is symbolic to promote civil and anti-bullying behavior and anti-harassment communication to students. I don't feel like they were censored. We developed a student union this year. It's there to work with the students. It's a vehicle to help them express their opinions and be confident that their ideas have been heard and to be guided appropriately," Ban said.

Crown Point administrators also have been working closely with Merrillville school administrators as students prepare for the Day of Silence, Ban said.

"We have been working with (diversity coordinator) Danny Lackey and students who are members of the STAND, or Students Together and Naturally Diverse, a club at Merrillville High School, whose objective is to help others to be aware and accepting of differences in others, whether it's differences in religion, orientation or abilities," he said.

The national sponsor of the Day of Silence is the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. According to its Web site, students from 130 schools in Indiana and 234 schools in Illinois have signed up to participate Friday. The group expects more than 6,000 students across the country to be involved.

Students from more than a dozen schools in Northwest Indiana and the nearby Chicago suburbs signed up to participate. Those schools include Crown Point, Chesterton, Kankakee Valley, East Chicago Central, Munster, Hammond Morton, Calumet, Highland, Portage, Lowell, Merrillville, Michigan City, Munster, Valparaiso, Thornton Fractional North in Calumet City and Bloom in Chicago Heights.

Daryl Presgrave, GLSEN's spokesman, said students have the right to participate in the Day of Silence during noninstructional times.

"Schools allow students to participate, and it turns out to be a good experience," he said.

Morton Principal Douglas Friend said he was not aware Morton students had signed up to participate.

"My theory is that students are open to come and talk to me about it," he said. "If they want to do something, I'm open to it. If I feel like it's something worthwhile, I'll support it. I'm concerned that this is something they did on their own and didn't come to me about it. I'd prefer to be told about it."

The Day of Silence is a source of concern for conservative groups, including the Carol Stream-based Illinois Family Institute. It is encouraging parents to keep their student home if the school is endorsing or allowing students to participate in a Day of Silence during instructional time.

"Kids have their First Amendment right to protest when class is not under way," said Dave Smith, the institute's executive director. "Even the American Civil Liberties Union says people have the right to participate in a Day of Silence during noninstructional times."

Smith's organization issued a news release that said, "Each year, the urgency and importance of opposing the Day of Silence increases because each year the efforts to exploit anti-bullying sentiment and anti-bullying resources in public schools to normalize homosexuality and to censor and demonize conservative views increases."

Lemon and Hogan said an e-mail in circulation encourages Crown Point High School parents to keep their children home Friday.

Ban said he was not aware of the e-mail.

"Parents have rights and choices," he said. "I know we have some exams on Friday. I haven't had a chance to think about whether there will be any excused absences."

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