Solidarity in silence

Students at Skyline College might have noticed a small number of people handing out small flyers in a rather silent manner, on May 7. The flyers said the following: “My deliberate silence today echoes the silence forced upon lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies by harassment prejudice, and discrimination. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.” This happening, organized by Skyline’s Gay-Straight Alliance, was the Day of Silence. “It echoes the silence of people who’ve had to remain closeted in the past because they were gay or gay friendly because of prejudices,” said Alex Thompson, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), who participated in the event.Day of Silence, an international student protest event, was created in 1996. Its function is to make campuses everywhere safer for students that feel harassed based on their gender and sexual orientation. Though Skyline’s GSA has participated in this event in the past, there was a lapse and the event was not done for several years-that is until club member Elin Abbott pitched the idea.”[Day of Silence] was one of my first experiences with gay culture,” Abbott said. “In my high school, during sophomore year, one boy was quiet on the official date, and then our GSA started up on campus and we also had a day of silence that came about two months later. It’s a form of protest, and people had been going to Sojourn To The Past [a multi-state tour of important Civil Rights locations], so that brought up feelings and people wanted to do something-take action. And that’s what was decided upon.”I’ve had friends who’ve gotten beaten up over this, over being gay and coming out of the closet, on multiple occasions. It happened three or four times, and it couldn’t really be stopped because the authorities didn’t do what they needed to do.”Though Thompson was never beaten up in high school, he and friends did experience similar harassment despite the fact that he was not “out,” leaving him worried. This in turn gave him reason to participate in the event.”I think it was because of the way that people had reacted to friends of mine,” he said. “One friend was constantly getting called s– to his face. I even got called s– to my face before I came out. In sophomore year, people would ask me if I was a ‘fag,’ and I would be like, ‘No, are you?'””People found it frustrating to communicate with me because I wasn’t speaking,” Abbott said. “People were trying to talk to me and I said I’d type to them or I’d write to them, but I was not speaking to them. I had two people storm away, being quite angry that I was not speaking. They were a little frustrated at the reasoning, and by the fact that I followed through with it made them so much more frustrated.”While this was mainly a student’s event, many Skyline faculty members participated in the event including GSA advisers Carlos Colombetti and AJ Bates. Some did special assignments on the event while others continued with regular lesson plans, albeit silently. Bates, a chemistry professor, while not teaching anything out of the ordinary, did set aside time before the event to explain what it was about as well as other GSA sponsored events.”I’m fairly out to my students, so basically I took the opportunity to talk to them about what the purpose of the event was-that we were inviting anyone who was gay friendly to participate,” he said. “You didn’t have to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender to actually participate to show your support. I don’t know how many students in my classes participated, but I know a number of students through the MESA center were participating. Certainly, many of them came up to me to express their support of the day.””I had students do silent projects that day off the overhead projector,” Colombetti said. “They seemed to react pretty well.”While Bates feels that Day of Silence is very important for getting the message of equality across to students and faculty, he also feels that the equality is already at Skyline and really isn’t much of an issue. “I think that any sort of discussion to make people start to think about issues of civil rights is important,” he said. “And speaking for a number of instructors, specifically about the GSA, it’s something that a number of instructors do try and bring up and bring into the curriculum of their classes. I think it’s important to get it into the social atmosphere outside of the classrooms as well. I think we have a lot of progressive and responsible instructors here who do bring up the issues of civil rights and equality.”Conversely, Colombetti thinks that the event is still relevant to Skyline College, not only to spread the word about the GSA, but citing a general lack of same-sex couples that are obviously together, showing public displays of affection at Skyline.”I think most people are aware of these issues on an abstract level through the media,” Colombetti said. “Perhaps most people don’t give very much attention to the fact that they don’t see same-sex couples holding hands as they walk across campus. That right there is part of the silence that is taking place. Part of the function of this sort of event is to make people aware of those kinds of things.Personal activismRay Hernandez did not participate in Day of Silence despite feeling he is an activist in the gay community at Skyline and in San Francisco.”I didn’t remember what day it was,” he said. “I was kind of out of the loop.”To Hernandez, a clinical coordinator of Skyline’s respiratory therapy program and openly gay staff member, the thought of setting out to be an activist is not second nature. On the other hand, getting involved with something that means a lot to him is. On March 30, Hernandez married his partner of 11 years in a ceremony at San Francisco’s City Hall. It should be noted that shortly before this date, California’s Supreme Court issued an order for San Francisco to stop issuing out licenses to same-sex couples, as it is illegal under state law. According to Hernandez, he and his partner had already made arrangements to be legally married at City Hall on that date, but when they decided to go through with the ceremony anyway, no one tried to stop them.”We have a friend who’s an ordained minister, and she did the ceremony,” he said. “She gave us a certificate that states again it’s a legal marriage, based on that certificate. But of course, there are no legal ramifications, it was just a statement. We felt good about participating in our own way, in this rights issue.”According to Hernandez, City Hall allowed the marriage to take place, as the building is a municipal one, however they were legally not involved at all. The marriage made local TV news as well as being covered in the Bay Area Reporter, a newspaper dedicated to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues and topics. Still, Hernandez doesn’t see anything he did as out of the ordinary-that he’s still just a teacher at Skyline.”I’m in a unique situation where you see some of your instructors in some of these classes where you have that instructor for one semester and then you really don’t see them again,” he said. “I have my students for two years, and even after they finish the program for Respiratory Therapy, I see them out in the community, so they’re not just students to me. They really are more, and I’m not just an instructor but just as a future colleague to them-they know who I am. “I’m really a multifaceted person, and one portion of that is that I’m gay. And so that’s how I perceive. It’s not, ‘Hi, how are you. I’m Ray-I’m gay.’ That’s not how I perceive, although there are some people who do that, because it’s very important to. For me, it’s just a small portion and it’s not a big deal, and I’m happy that it’s not. It’s not an issue-it’s not an issue in my work place, everybody knows who I am, and in that, I feel very relaxed.”As for the importance of events like Day of Silence to Hernandez, he feels they are an integral part of educating students and faculty about the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. “The faculty is being educated,” he sai
d “They’re given opportunities to attend this seminar off campus, down in Los Angeles at the Museum of Tolerance. I think that’s kind of a component of awareness, and or tolerance, or really acceptance of diversity. So, I was involved with that and part of the Museum of Tolerance. This whole thing that’s happening [Melba Beals speaking] is part of the Museum of Tolerance, so I think there’s kind of a larger picture. So, when I think about it, I don’t feel like much of an activist, but then I look at the things that I do and I realize I’m there. So, I think it’s just getting involved.”