Last Friday, April 17, the LGBTQ advocacy organization GLSEN sponsored its “Day of Silence,” an annual event that “brings attention to the anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment that is common in schools” by having queer students and their allies organize peaceful demonstrations on campuses, often involving self-imposed quiet for much of the day. Due to a scheduling conflict, the Gay-Straight Alliance at McGuffey High School in Claysville, Pennsylvania, chose to mark the occasion on Wednesday, April 15, instead, drawing between 30 and 50 participants and generating a generally supportive atmosphere, according to a participant who spoke with BuzzFeed News.
The mood changed on Thursday, when, according to a number of reports, a similar-sized group organized an “anti-gay day,” which they marked by wearing flannel, writing “Anti-Gay” on their bodies, posting Bible verses to queer students’ lockers and social media profiles, and, most troublingly, allegedly harassing “Day of Silence” participants both verbally and physically. There are also allegations of a “lynch list” containing the names of LGBTQ students, a noose being hung from a flag in one classroom, and, according to local outlet WPXI, plans for further clothing-based demonstrations all this week. While harassment reports are currently being investigated by the school district—which on Monday reported not yet finding evidence of assaults or the “lynch list” in an update to BuzzFeed—many of the “anti-gay day” activities were documented on Instagram and other social media platforms.
Zoe Johnson, an out bisexual student at the school, described her experience to BuzzFeed—“I got called a dyke, a faggot. They were calling us every horrible name you can think of.”—and added on Facebook that “this is why so many students hate going to school.” Dr. Erica Kolat, the district superintendent, acknowledged the situation in a statement, saying “McGuffey School District, along with school police officers, continue to investigate all allegations. We will follow our Student Code of Conduct, and file legal citations, as warranted. We resolve to ensure that all children can grow and learn in a safe, supportive environment free from discrimination.”
While we know that anti-LGBTQ bullying is an ongoing problem in schools, the reported actions of the homophobic students at McGuffey are striking for their forethought and organization, as well as for their alleged progression to violations of person and property. (Holding anti-gay views is, of course, protected by the First Amendment, but hate-fueled violence is not—and McGuffey’s Code of Conduct suggests that the some of the alleged actions might rise to Level IV violations, which could result in expulsion.) The exact motivations of the students behind “anti-gay day” aren’t yet known, but it’s hard not to see this sort of coherent, religiously inflected action as part of the larger backlash LGBTQ people are currently experiencing in the United States under the banner of “religious liberty” and the like. Aside from showing that certain students at McGuffey need to reflect on how they interact with their classmates, this incident should serve as a reminder that large-scale successes like those expected with same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court this summer will not end the struggle for LGBTQ acceptance—far from it. As McGuffey’s queer students now know, even basic safety at school isn’t guaranteed.