by Christopher Haight for the Daily Kos - Fri., Jan. 27, 2012:
Today marks the end of No Name-Calling Week, which was created by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to bring attention to name-calling in schools. From the website:
No Name-Calling Week was inspired by a young adult novel entitled "The Misfits" by popular author, James Howe. The book tells the story of four best friends trying to survive the seventh grade in the face of all too frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. Motivated by the inequities they see around them, the "Gang of Five" (as they are known) creates a new political party during student council elections and run on a platform aimed at wiping out name-calling of all kinds. The No-Name Party in the end, wins the support of the school's principal for their cause and their idea for a "No Name-Calling Day" at school.
Motivated by this simple, yet powerful, idea, the No Name-Calling Week Coalition created by GLSEN and Simon & Schuster Children's publishing, consisting of over 40 national partner organizations, organized an actual No Name-Calling Week in schools across the nation. The project seeks to focus national attention on the problem of name-calling in schools, and to provide students and educators with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate name-calling in their communities.
Of course, many of us are well aware of the existence of name-calling in our schools. And those of us who were unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of it certainly don't need to be reminded of how destructive it is in young people's lives.
One particular day in middle school sticks out in my mind. Probably because it summarizes my entire early adolescence. I was in gym class, which was my least favorite class for obvious reasons. I refused to get changed or shower (for obvious reasons), which already made me suspect, not that I wasn't already. We had to play some game that involved locking arms with another person. Needless to say, there was not a line to lock arms with me. In fact, when there were only two of us left, the other person refused to touch me. I'll never forget the look in his eyes. It was as if I was a piece of trash. And truthfully, that's how I felt.
I had a pretty shitty school experience, to say the least. If I wasn't the faggot (which I was pretty much every day, as my peers knew before I did that I was gay), I was the fat-ass. I could count my friends on one hand. From about sixth grade until high school, I went through pure hell. Had I not believed in hell, I probably would have been suicidal. I certainly wished for death.
No violence was ever committed against me. For the most part, I wasn't touched. It was all words. Words matter. Words can kill. They didn't kill me, but they killed my spirit for years to come and profoundly fucked me up in ways that I'm still grappling with to this day. Yes, words really do matter. I was one of the lucky ones.
Given my own personal experience, I feel a little bad that I haven't at least written something for No Name-Calling Week. It has been a busy week, and I just remembered today that No Name-Calling Week is coming to a close. I think a good way to end No Name-Calling Week is to recommend a film that tackles the subject (and many others) in a moving and deeply inspiring way. The film is called Out in the Silence.
I first heard about Out in the Silence when I received an e-mail about its screening in my old city, Erie, Pennsylvania. I went to the screening and was able to meet Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer (yes, that Dean Hamer), the filmmakers. By the end of the film, I was in tears. It hit really close to home.
Out in the Silence is a documentary that takes place, interestingly enough, about a half an hour down the road from where I grew up, in Oil City, Pennsylvania. This is a deep-red part of the state, in what I call the Alabama section of Pennsylvania, where tolerance is in short supply. It follows the experience of CJ, a gay teen who had to leave school because the bullying was so brutal. None of the teachers or administrators cared, which is really highlighted in one scene of the film in which a school board member laughs during a meeting when CJ's mom asks what is being done about the bullying situation. The film follows CJ's struggle to get the school board to address the problem of bullying in the school district, a struggle that takes him all the way to Harrisburg and ends with ACLU intervention.
That's not all, though. The film also addresses the homophobic culture of the area, which helps enable bullies in the first place. It looks at the uproar over the filmmakers' wedding announcement when it was published in the local newspaper. It features Diane Gramley of the AFA of Pennsylvania as the main villain who fights progress in northwestern Pennsylvania, however slight, tooth and nail, even going so far as to sabotage a local lesbian couple's business's grand opening.
Out in the Silence is about more than CJ and Diane Gramley and a bunch of backwoods bigots, though. It's about a town's gradual evolution. The film is a hopeful one which traces the evolution of a local preacher, who railed against the wedding announcement in the beginning of the film and joined CJ in Harrisburg in the end. It's about humans' capacity for change, and it points to a future in which teens like CJ won't have to drop out of school because of intolerance.
In short, it's a film everybody should see. And I really wish it was mandatory viewing for youth. It might make a few think twice before throwing "fag" or any other hurtful word (anti-gay or not) around. It's really short (under an hour) and available for free on Hulu. Here's the trailer: