| It's not easy for most high schoolers to spend an entire day without speaking a word. Yet more than one hundred students at San Ramon Valley High took a vow of silence last Friday to encourage respect and tolerance toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The Day of Silence, a nationally recognized event, represents the silence, helplessness and shame that many closeted and openly gay people face in their life.
"It's just trying to show straight people - and gay people of course - 'This is what it's like,'" said senior Nick Pittarides, co-president of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance.
The National Day of Silence is being recognized this Friday in conjunction with Gay Pride Week, which began Monday. For scheduling reasons SRVHS recognized the event a week early, on April 18.
Throughout the week leading up to the event, students distributed more than 300 rainbow ribbons and sold the same amount of T-shirts touting the message, "Support Love."
All week students were enthusiastic and eager to support the cause, said senior Sammy Brenner, the other GSA co-president. While last year only 40 or so people officially took part in the event, this year the club surpassed its ambitious goal to sell 300 shirts.
"I think we took it to the next level this year," she said, adding that the turnout reflects the growing trend toward gay tolerance nationwide.
"I think it's our generation that's really going to hit this on the head and make it happen," said Brenner.
But there still are instances of disrespect around the school, such as when people use the phrase "that's so gay" to describe something lame or stupid.
"It's gonna be hard to tackle that one," Pittarides said. He thinks acceptance should be talked about with kids at a younger age, before prejudiced habits are formed.
"You don't have to be pro gay rights," he said. "But you do have to have respect."
The club has created and distributed "Safe Zone" fliers to hang on classroom walls, signifying that the voices of gay people will be respected in that room. Pittarides said it's important to let people know that if they are subject to prejudice, they have allies at the school.
"I think things like that show people that San Ramon is a safe and welcoming campus," he said.
When school let out on Friday a crowd of soundless students, many wearing the GSA shirts, gathered in the quad to break their silence together.
Standing on a brick wall in the middle of the quad, Pittarides and Brenner started counting down from 10 - not out loud, of course, but by holding up big signs with large numbers written on them. At the end of the countdown the students erupted in noise - cheering, clapping and hugging one another.
The GSA topped off its celebration of Gay Pride Week by hosting a photography exhibit last weekend in the school's performing arts center.
The exhibit displayed about 100 photographs of openly gay athletes taken by photographer and lecturer at UC Santa Barbara Jeff Shang.
The goal of the project, called "Fearless," is to break down stereotypes and encourage people to open their minds.
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