Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Silence can be incredibly loud

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Friday is the national Day of Silence across the United States, a day in which hundreds of thousands of students from more than 8,000 K-12 and post-secondary schools will take a vow of silence to protest homophobia.

It started in 1996, and has grown every year, says the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which organizes the national Day of Silence with support from the American Civil Liberties Union.

It hasn’t reached Canada... at least, not yet.

I can already see the homophobes among my admirers reaching for the comments button; I don’t have to tell you which side of this issue I come down on, do I? Why don’t you consider signing with your real name, for once?

The GLSEN has this to say about the national Day of Silence: "The Day of Silence is a student-led national event that brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Students from middle school to college take some form of a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior. The event is designed to illustrate the silencing effect of this bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT."

The GLSEN says that students do not have the right to remain silent in a classroom if a teacher asks them to speak, but encourages students to seek their schools’ co-operation ahead of time, so that their silence is not an issue. The rest of the day, the idea is to be silent, but to distribute a wide variety of information and take other steps to raise the issue of homophobia.

From the anti-homophobia education plan introduced by Winnipeg School Division in 1999, to the ongoing national research project on homophobia in schools being led by University of Winnipeg Prof. Catherine Taylor, this city has been willing and ready to confront homophobia — though no one with his or her head on straight thinks there isn’t an enormous way to go.

Digression — youth soccer season starts in two weeks. You know that as a referee I discipline kids for homophobic language. Start working now on the presentation you’ll make, demanding that I be kicked out of organized soccer for disciplining your child or player, and think about how your reasoning will sound when you make your case against me before a hearing of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Back to the topic.

The Day of Silence isn’t in Canada yet.

But if you want to consider it, the website is here. Check it out — they sound like really good people.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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