Posts tagged ‘human rights’


This article was originally posted at The Nation on April 14, 2010.

On April 16 thousands of university and high school students will attend classes without a word. No socializing in hallways or on the quad, no joking in the cafeteria, no participating in classrooms. When asked why they remain silent, their only response will be a card containing an explanation of the Day of Silence.

The Day brings attention to the silence endured by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students when facing bullying and harassment in school. The card explains that students’ “deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-calling, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices.”

The event has become the largest student-led action addressing school safety for all students, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The day began in 1996 at the University of Virginia. Undergraduate Maria Pulzetti wanted an event that would be visible on campus and involve straight allies.

“I wanted to do something for BGLAD week that would impact many people at the school and that would be very visible,” Pulzetti said in an interview for Oasis magazine. “I knew that if we held panel discussions and events like that, the only people who would come would be the people who already were fairly aware.”

The first Day of Silence was a success among students at the UVA and garnered some press attention. The next year the event grew to include 200 UVA students and over 100 colleges and universities across the US. Pulzetti and fellow student Jesse Gilliam worked hard to develop the project for schools coast to coast. Two years later high schools became involved, and in 2000 the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) became the official sponsor of the event. In 2008 over 8,000 high schools, colleges and universities took part in the action.

Participating students are both gay and straight. Their silence seeks to raise an awareness of the harassment and bullying that many LGBT students face daily from their peers. It is not only LGBT students who are being abused, a fact that GLSEN also wants to bring awareness to this year. In 2009, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself because of peers who harassed him, calling him gay even though he was straight. On the 2009 Day of Silence Carl would have turned 12.

“As was the case with Carl, you do not have to identify as gay to be attacked with anti-LGBT language,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a press release. “From their earliest years on the school playground, students learn to use anti-LGBT language as the ultimate weapon to degrade their peers.”

The Day of Silence also provides resources to schools on how they can take simple steps to stop harassment within their own walls, such as adopting an anti-bullying policy, curriculum that addresses LGBT issues and tolerance and training teachers and staff to better deal with bullying when they see it.

Of course, a day like this doesn’t come without its critics. Several family advocacy groups say the Day of Silence is politicizing the classroom and indoctrinating students. One of the most outspoken groups is the American Family Association, who is calling on parents to pull their children from school on the Day of Silence, apparently in support of bullying and harassment. A coalition of groups support the Day of Silence “walk-out.” Exodus International, a religious organization that supports “conversion therapy,” has organized the first, counter Day of Truth on the day after the Day of Silence. Their slogan is “Get The Conversation Started” about biblical sexuality.

To find out more, visit GLSEN’s Day of Silence Web site.


Apr 14, 2010 at 12:05 am Leave a comment


This interview was originally posted at Eurotopics on Sept. 10, 2008.

Sweden is the most generous among Europe’s donor countries. Sweden’s Minister for Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson explains why this is the case and also why the EU needs to be more active in Georgia and Africa.

euro|topics: The Swedish government seems to attach great importance to development aid, more so than other European Union governments, as it spends the highest percentage of its national income on it. Why?

We believe in openness. People are connected with global developments, whether it’s hunger in Africa or the violence in Afghanistan. This government believes that aid and development cooperation can make a difference if we do the right things.


Photo: Pawel Flato

But of course combating poverty is not only about the amount of development aid, but also about trade regulations, climate policy and about foreign relations.

euro|topics: Developing gender equality, particularly in Africa, is a primary goal for Sweden. Why is this so important?

Gender is one of the three priorities in Sweden’s development cooperation. Women and children are specifically vulnerable, but they can be fast tools for change, for example in issues of power sharing. The other two priorities are “human rights, democracy and the need of rule of law” and “environment and climate change”. When I came into office two years ago, we had about ten priorities. I found huge room for improvement there in Swedish policy.

euro|topics: How do you evaluate cooperation at an EU level?

The EU should use its full potential for stronger policies of coherence regarding levels of ODA, trade, agriculture, and foreign security policy. There are new donors emerging and old donors now trying to achieve more, like Spain. We have the old team of the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden cooperating very well together.

euro|topics: You alluded to the fact that every EU country has its own development priorities, which can sometimes make distribution of aid counterproductive.

This is true in foreign policy as well. It is easier to please your citizens if you can put up the Swedish flag rather than the EU flag.

euro|topics: What should be done to improve cooperation among EU countries?

A lot. I’d like to have a new treaty with a more coherent foreign policy. It should analyse and then link development cooperation with the global role that the EU should play. This could help in overcoming these disparities that are sometimes counterproductive.

euro|topics: Given recent events, will your development aid policy toward Georgia change or does this depend more on a common European policy or perspective?

Georgia is one of those countries where we decided to stay and where we are trying to do more. We were among the first countries to answer to the humanitarian appeal from Georgia, and we are following the situation there seriously and closely, specifically with our minister of foreign affairs Carl Bildt.

euro|topics: So it doesn’t depend much on a common European policy?

Even though there may be reluctances or changed attitudes within the EU, we really should support Georgia. The EU should step up its efforts to show solidarity and encourage the possibility of having Georgia as a well-functioning state and a good partner. We should also continue to engage more with Russia. Sweden just phased out Russia as a partner country, but we still do a lot when it comes to our common Baltic Sea and the environment.

euro|topics: Do you think aid will begin to decrease even more due to the world food crisis and the economic downturn that is predicted for the EU?

Yes. Up until last year it was actually the case that the overall ODA levels were increasing in the world, but now there is stagnation. The trend has been positive in one way, but too slow to meet the Millenium Development Goals and the promises made. If we, the rich world, do not deliver on that, how can we help, or more or less encourage, developing countries to listen more to our experiences, to not make the same mistakes when it comes to the environment and to feel that we are partners? I think the levels of ODA are a test of our overall commitment, and that is why I’m frustrated about the progress on our levels, but also partly on aid effectiveness.

euro|topics: What are the major future challenges for European development cooperation?

When it comes to regions, it’s Africa, Africa. I would like to stress that very clearly. It is our closest continent and big differences between the two continents are not healthy for the EU. We could do more to encourage women’s rights, democracy and the rule of law in the neighbourhood, including parts of the Middle East. And our main issue should be climate change.

Interview: Morgan Ashenfelter

Sep 10, 2008 at 7:55 pm Leave a comment

Twitter Updates