Los Banos student voices aim to silence harassment

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comApril 12, 2013 

Two high school groups that push for inclusion are asking classmates to make a statement against bullying and intolerance next week by committing to the nationwide Day of Silence.

Gay-Straight Alliance club members from both Los Banos and Pacheco high schools are collecting pledges from students who want to stand in solidarity with marginalized students by refraining from talking on April 19, organizers said.

Pacheco High's club President Ty Pettit, who said he faced bullying as a freshman, said it's important students understand the event before signing up to get a sticker or pin. The national campaign calls for a day of action in which students across the country take some form of a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying and harassment in schools.

"It's just a protest in honor of all the voices that are silenced due to bullying and prejudices," the 16-year-old junior said, adding classmates should be committed to participating before making their mark.

About 35 students are on board so far at Pacheco High, he said.

Ila Nelson, a teacher and club adviser, said the club at Pacheco High started just before last year's Day of Silence. The students have had more time to prepare this year and are asking classmates to attend meetings for planning.

"I think everyone this year seems pretty serious about it," she said.

Many of the students who participate will wear a Day of Silence button, T-shirt, temporary tattoo or a rainbow ribbon. They will also carry business card-sized explanations to hand out to students and teachers around them, so they can remain silent and still spread the word.

"People who are silent today," the explanation states, "believe that laws and attitudes should be inclusive of people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, races, national origins, ethnicities, religions and abilities."

Los Banos High club adviser Nancy Nelson, who is also Ila's mother, said the yearly effort draws more than 200 commitments. Sign-ups at her campus begin today and continue through Thursday.

"I feel like there's still a lot of work to do on this campus in terms of harassment and stuff," Nelson said, adding the club is about a decade old at Los Banos High.

"I think people are becoming more accepting and less intolerant," she said.

Nelson's hunch is in line with some polling. A 2012 Gallup Poll found 54 percent of Americans find gay and lesbian relations morally acceptable, compared to 38 percent in 2002. The level of acceptance jumps to 65 percent among people between the ages of 18 and 34.

Nelson sent an email to faculty across campus with an explanation about the day. She said she expects to hear back from a mostly supportive staff.

Savannah Del Franco, the Los Banos High club's president, said she hopes those around Day of Silence participants will get the message.

"It shows you that your friends and people that you're close to are trying to bring awareness that people shouldn't be bullied and they shouldn't feel like they need to close themselves off," the 17-year-old junior said.

Gay-Straight Alliance clubs also organize a pledge drive every October where students commit to be an ally to those of any sexual orientation.

Pacheco High students who want to get involved should contact Ila Nelson in Room F-3, and those interested at Los Banos High should see Nancy Nelson in room 406.

For more on the day, go to www.dayofsilence.org.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

enterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.

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