When students at Longfellow Magnet Middle School go to school today, they will spend their first two hours in silence.
While they will be studying, they will not be talking. But they will be learning.
The students will be participating in National Day of Silence, a day devoted to standing up against the teasing and bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning people. The silence symbolically represents all those who have been silenced because of their sexuality.
This will be the third year the middle school in south Berkeley has participated in the international event, according to Patricia Saddler, the principal.
Besides not talking from 9 am to 11 am, the students will be carrying rainbow banners. There will also be sections of each classroom designated as “safe zones,” where GLBT students can go and know they will be safe.
To get the students prepared for the day, Longfellow held successive assemblies on Thursday where students spoke about the importance of being allies to GLBT students, sang songs against intolerance, and watched multi-media presentations.
Many of the speakers were members of Longfellow’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which is designed “for anyone who wants our school to be a safe or accepting place for everybody,” according to Rosina Keren, a teacher at the school.
A young student named Tiffany stood before an audience of sixth graders and told them how she had been shy and timid in elementary school and was the target of teasing and bullying. Longfellow, she said, was different. It was an accepting place that let her be herself.
“Longfellow actually gave me love,” said Tiffany. “No one actually teased me. So thank you.”
The statistics about the repercussions of bullying are grim, according to slides played in the assembly. There are 100 to 200 teenage suicide attempts made for every successful suicide. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning students are four times more likely to kill themselves than their straight peers.
“I think it is really important we treat everyone the same and we don’t disrespect anyone for anything,” said a student named Clara.
A student band played a song called “Secrets”, while the words “judged,” “embarrassed,” “overwhelmed,” rejected, and “lonely,’ played on a screen behind them.
Anita Uresti, the mother of Aubrey Uresti, a counseling intern at the school, sewed 250 rainbow flags for the day.