Mount Si's gay-rights Day of Silence is far from quiet
A Day of Silence inside Mount Si High School meant to show support for gay and lesbian students erupted in noisy protests outside. More than one-third of...
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
A Day of Silence inside Mount Si High School meant to show support for gay and lesbian students erupted in noisy protests outside.
More than one-third of students didn't show up for classes Friday. Principal Randy Taylor said 495 out of 1,410 students weren't at school, including 85 athletes whose parents had asked that they be excused for their personal beliefs.
About 100 people joined the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, a prominent anti-gay-rights activist, in prayer and song that questioned the dedication of a school day to what they said was a controversial political cause.
Snoqualmie police placed yellow crime-scene tape between Hutcherson's supporters and about 40 counterdemonstrators, including some former students, who tried to drown out the pastor by beating drums and chanting, "Go home."
Earlier, about 80 parents and supporters of the event, sponsored by the school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), stood quietly outside the school as students arrived in the morning. Some wore tie-dye scarves, and a former student waved a rainbow flag.
"We want to let students in the GSA know they have support in the community," said Lucinda Hauser, a Mount Si parent and member of the local Methodist church.
Members of the group of supporters said they did not want to confront Hutcherson or his supporters and left about 8 a.m.
The national Day of Silence was observed Friday by more than 200 high schools around the state and more than 7,000 school and colleges nationally. It has been observed nationally for the past 13 years.
Participants take a vow of silence to represent the silence many gay and lesbian students feel they must maintain at school to avoid harassment.
Some conservative Christian groups, including Concerned Women for America, had called for a national boycott and urged followers to keep their children home from school.
The Mount Si event became a flash point for controversy after Hutcherson, whose daughter attends the school, was invited to give the Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech earlier this year about his experiences growing up black in Alabama. Because of his controversial views on homosexuality, one teacher booed his appearance and another questioned his support for equal rights.
Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, last week called for 1,000 "prayer warriors" to join him outside the school Friday.
He and his wife also took out a half-page ad in the Snoqualmie Valley Record calling on residents to join them.
Speaking to his followers Friday, Hutcherson said, "We want education, not indoctrination." He said school officials had not listened to parent complaints that the Day of Silence interrupted learning and was more appropriately held before or after school.
"It's not appropriate to have during school," said Lynette Smallwood, the parent of two Mount Si students.
"They're not getting an education."
Hutcherson supporters carried signs that read "Teach Don't Preach" and "Silence for Unnatural Behavior? Not ME."
Across the police tape, Scott Stubing, of Carnation, said his son had been harassed at school and accused of being gay.
"We can't continue with ignorance," Stubing said.
Some students left class when the protests began outside. Max Rosentreter, a sophomore, said he wanted to be outside voicing his opinion.
Despite the school's Gay Straight Alliance, few Mount Si gay students are open about their sexuality, he said.
"No one's out. They're scared of getting hurt," he said.
Ken Lauren, a Redmond parent whose son-in-law teaches at Mount Si, shouted at Hutcherson's group, "Are these the values you want your kids to grow up with — bigotry, intolerance, hatred?"
His sign read, "I believe in separation of church and hate."
Some students arriving at school honked to support the proponents of gay rights. One student had written on her car window, "It's our school, not your church."
Another student drove an open Jeep blasting the Village People song "Macho Man" and Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out."
Students interviewed later said the atmosphere inside the school was at times tense as students expressed a range of opinions.
About 200 students took training to participate in the Day of Silence. School administrators required the preparation as a way to ensure student safety and to protect the learning environment.
Some students and parents had complained to the school board earlier this spring that the two previous Days of Silence at Mount Si had coerced participation and subjected to harassment students who wanted to stay neutral.
Some teachers also chose to remain silent, drawing objections from students who said they were there to learn. Otherwise, last year's event occurred largely without incident.
Administrators directed teachers to teach this year and said that students should respond if called upon in class.
Taylor said Friday's observances were a lesson in democracy for students.
"They learned they can express themselves and respect other points of view," he said. The principal also commended teachers at the school who he said were "teaching the curriculum."
Junior Landon Wilson, wearing an Uncle Sam costume, joined members of the Mount Si Student Conservative Club in handing out red, white and blue ribbons.
He said the group was offering what it considered to be American values as an alternative to an endorsement of the Day of Silence.
Jacqueline Ferland, president of the GSA, called the day a success. "There's diversity at this school, and there's now a recognition of that," she said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company