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Silence Speaks Volumes

Capital Region students to participate in national protest to raise awareness of LGBT discrimination in schools

Although Dominick Halse may be enjoying his freshman year at Sage College at Albany, the painful memories of his four years spent at Maple Hill High School in Castleton are still visible in his mind.

“What I faced in high school forever changed my life,” said Halse. “That experience will always be with me because it was just so horrible.”

Other students constantly harassed Halse. At first, he said, it was because people perceived him as gay. And later on, when he came out as actually being gay, the treatment got worse. Being mocked in class, hearing “I hate you, faggot” as he walked the halls, getting beaten up at school dances, and even receiving death threats, were all a part of his adolescent life.

“I know what it is like to have to go through the day being silent for fear of being abused,” said Halse. “No one should ever have to go through such treatment.”

This is why Halse and Andrew Marra, a junior at Bethlehem Central High School, have been working since November with the Capital Region’s Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network to prepare for an official Day of Silence.

On Wednesday, April 10, thousands of students and faculty members across the nation will take a vow of silence to make a stand against discrimination in schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Instead of speaking, participants will hand out note cards explaining the reason for their silence. Both Halse and Marra are cochairs of the event for the Capital Region. This is the second year that area schools are participating in the national event, which started in 1997.

“This is to show others the difficulty that many LGBT students go through in school,” said Marra, who adds that so far, nearly 300 students have signed up to participate at his school alone. “Many kids live in silence because they are scared that if they speak or act the way they really want to, they will be made fun of. Or worse, physically abused. As a result, they go through school remaining quiet as a way not to draw any attention to themselves.”

According to Hatred in the Hallways: Discrimination and Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in U.S. Public Schools, a Human Rights Watch report issued in May 2001, widespread harassment of LGBT students affects as many as 2 million youths nationwide and has a direct, negative impact on students’ emotional and physical health and academic performance. As a result, the report charges, this population is not receiving an adequate education.

The report found that LGBT students, and students perceived to be such, spend an enormous amount of time mapping ways to get to and from school to avoid being hurt. They also steer clear of hallways when other students are present to avoid slurs and shoves. Many cut gym classes to escape harassment and, in short, spend the majority of their days trying to go unnoticed.

“Being called a faggot or dyke, getting pushed or shoved into lockers, being spit upon and assaulted, doesn’t allow students to fully grow or express themselves in school,” said Marra. “It deprives many the full experience of school and the right to be a full participant.”

George Gnidowski, a senior at Mohanasen High School in Rotterdam, is coordinating the event at his school, where 150 students are expected to participate; he said he hopes many students will get a sense of what it is like to walk in the shoes of those who are constantly the subject of ridicule. He also said that the Day of Silence will show the public how many people are willing to take a stand against discrimination in schools.

“Most schools have gotten a lot better, at least in the area, but nationwide there is still a great need for improvement,” said Gnidowski. “When you see all of these people remaining silent and all of these people supporting antidiscrimination it sends a powerful message.”

A rally titled Breaking the Silence also will take place on April 10 at Albany High School at 4 PM.

“The more people talk about this issue, the closer we will come to having all schools safe for all students,” said Martha Shultz, a GLSEN board member.

—Nancy Guerin

Funny, You Don’t Look a Day Over 216 Months

Will Waldron

At first it seemed like an April Fool’s Day joke. On April 1, the state Legislature and governor were late in passing the state budget for the 18th year in a row, and a few blocks away, three government reform groups were celebrating. But this wasn’t any ordinary celebration: It was a birthday party. In the LCA Press Room, decorated with streamers, candles, banners and hats, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and NYPIRG celebrated the 18th birthday of Late Budget Boy. Like all other men who turn 18, the Late Budget Boy spent his birthday registering to vote and signing up for Selective Service. However, it wasn’t simply an event to celebrate the male rite of passage—Late Budget Boy’s birthday celebration doubled as a news conference to discuss the late budget. With legislators on recess until April 8, the budget will be at least a week late this year—most likely later.

—Mike Greenhaus

Stop War—Before It Starts

Local chapter of Interfaith Alliance declares opposition to expected U.S. military action against Iraq

The Capital District Chapter of the Interfaith Alliance of New York is flat-out against the U.S. government taking military action against Iraq, and its members want their message to be heard loud and clear—so much so that the group is calling on its national chapter to endorse its antiwar resolution.

“Democrats have not challenged this [President George W.] Bush rhetoric for war, and everyone seems to be dancing to the drumbeat for war,” said Bernard Fleishman, executive director of the Capital Region Interfaith Alliance. “Someone has to speak up.”

Fleishman said that with the help of the national organization, the message to oppose military action in Iraq could reach a much larger audience. Which in turn, he hopes, could spark a national debate over the issue.

While President Bush hasn’t said whether the United States will invade Iraq, he has accused the country of developing weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terrorists. He said that Iraq, as well as North Korea and Iran, are part of “the Axis of Evil,” and therefore potential targets of the United States’ War on Terrorism. Bush told Reuters news service that options are being considered that range from diplomatic efforts to push Iraq President Saddam Hussein to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors, to possible military action.

But many people think that the Bush administration is leaning toward the latter and that plans to attack Iraq could be carried out as early as this summer.

According to an article published on March 27 in London’s The Guardian, the U.S. Air Force has begun to move its Persian Gulf headquarters from Saudi Arabia to Qatar to bypass Saudi objections to military action against Iraq. The article also notes that the U.S military presence in the Middle East and Central Asia has nearly doubled in recent months. CBSNews.com reported similar information on March 30. Further, the Turkish press quoted Vice President Dick Cheney as telling Ariel Sharon that the United States was planning to attack Iraq “first and foremost, for Israel’s sake.”

“Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons program poses too great a threat to U.S. national security for Saddam to remain,” Bush told Reuters.

But Fleishman said that the Bush administration’s claims go without merit.

“We think that the push and the rhetoric of the Bush administration, pointing toward war with Iraq, represents an irresponsible and unnecessary move toward military measure,” said Fleishman. “We don’t think that the evidence is there, in any sense, that Iraq represents any real threat to the United States.”

On Tuesday, April 2, the Interfaith Alliance held a press conference in Albany, where Scott Ritter, former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, testified that 90 to 95 percent of Iraq’s weapons were destroyed and that the weapons left in Iraq, if any, do not constitute a serious threat to the United States.

“Iraq is a devastated nation, a nation torn by war, torn by economic sanction,” said Ritter. “Iraq has no capability whatsoever of projecting military power outside of the borders of Iraq.”

Ritter said that the massive factories that Iraq used in 1990 and 1991 to produce weapons were identified and eliminated by the weapons inspectors. When weapons inspectors left in December 1998, Ritter added, Iraq had been brought as close to zero as a country can get in terms of disarmament. However, Ritter said he would support any effort to resume weapons inspections in Iraq to monitor the nation’s potential weapons-building capability.

“We are told by our government that Iraq possesses chemical weapons,” said Ritter. “But if we have such certainty of knowledge then why isn’t this knowledge put forth in respect to the democratic process so we, the people of the United States, can judge for ourselves. . . . The reason is because those facts simply don’t exist.”

Melissa Schwartz, media relations director for the National Interfaith Alliance, said that at this time the organization would not support the Capital District chapter’s resolution.

“While we respect the interests and decisions of our local alliances,” said Schwartz, “The Interfaith Alliance’s national board has chosen to focus on domestic issues so that we can be most effective in our work. Local alliances have a great deal of freedom to pursue their agenda, and though we will receive their call, without board action we cannot change our focus.”

—N.G.


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