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Silent protest, vocal response

By Walt Brasch - posted Tuesday, 27 June 2006

“Enraged” would be too mild an adjective to describe the caller to Spectrum magazine, a national award-winning student-produced magazine for permanent residents of two rural counties in north-eastern Pennsylvania.

“Take my wife off of this circulation list. I don’t know how she ever got on,” he demanded.

My business manager, a junior, asked what was wrong, thinking she might defuse his anger - or at least find out what bothered him.


“We don’t believe in alternative lifestyles, and don’t want to be associated with this,” he shouted angrily, and again demanded to be pulled from our circulation list. He didn’t want to talk to the circulation manager or the editor: he didn’t even want to tell us what infuriated him. He just didn’t want his wife to receive the magazine.

The business manager politely thanked him for his call, took his wife’s name off the subscriber list and came to see me. My office is adjacent to the Spectrum office. I teach journalism at Bloomsburg University, and serve as editor-in-chief and adviser to Spectrum.

Together we quickly went through the 20-story index-shorts, features, in-depth investigative reports, trying to figure out what was in our recently distributed issue to cause such outrage. In a couple of minutes of rapid-fire thought, we finally made the connection. The current issue was distributed within a week after the Day of Silence. The only connection was our name. At Danville High School, the only one of seven high schools in our circulation area to officially support the Day of Silence, the sponsoring club, with both gay and straight students, was also known as Spectrum.

The Day of Silence began in 1996 with 150 students at the University of Virginia. Ten years later, about 500,000 students from 4,000 schools participated in a silent day to send “a loud message from America’s students that we must work harder to ensure safe and effective schools for every child,” according to Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which works with the United States Student Association, for the annual event.

Last year the Alliance Defense Fund initiated the Day of Truth to “counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective”. About 2,800 students participated this year, according to the ADF.

Parents had protested about the forthcoming Day of Silence at two meetings of Danville Area School Board. They complained that students not saying anything throughout one of the 180 mandated school days would disrupt the entire educational process, apparently not understanding that education can also occur by reading, watching and listening to others.


“Why are the rights of the majority trumped by the few?” asked one parent, who gave a good impression of someone who may not have done well in basic civics when he was in high school. They also complained that the gay lifestyle promoted mortal sin: the Bible, they claimed, said as much.

Donald Lee Fox, a 30-year-old conservative, delivered an impassioned speech, quoting biblical text and called homosexuality “an abomination”. This was the same Donald Lee Fox, who was once convicted of aggravated indecent assault upon a 15-year-old girl and sentenced to three-to-ten months in prison and who was on parole for four years and required to register as a Megan’s Law offender. Apparently, being gay is a greater sin than sexual assault.

The Sunbury Daily Item, Danville News and Bloomsburg Press Enterprise, which circulate in Danville, ran articles about the controversy: each ran a few signed letters to the editor. But it was in 30 Seconds, a radio show, that the mood of the community was revealed. Each day, dozens of residents who listen to radio talk shows, but who probably can’t get by the screeners, call or write e-mails to the politically conservative anti-union Press Enterprise; , the 21,000-circulation daily newspaper, which publishes anything from a half-page to two full pages of these short usually anonymous snippets, some of which are recycled from the Internet or based upon what their callers heard on talk shows. Many comments contain at least one spelling or grammatic error; many contain pejorative phrases.

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About the Author

Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and author of 16 books. Dr. Brasch's current books are Unacceptable: The Federal Government’s Response to Hurricane Katrina; Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture; and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (Nov. 2007) You may contact him at

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