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Courage comes of age in May

It's not just a coincidence that May Day starts this wonderful cusp-of-summer-liberation month of May. May is that most fertile month of self-expression. We break out, we reach out, we move on. I mean, you just don't hear much talk of January Day or September Day, do you?

Locally and nationally, May magazines have been at the top of the news. Even as they were winning three 2004 National Magazine Awards this month, The New Yorker was publishing a trio (so far!) of Bush-busting pieces on Abu Ghraib by Seymour H. Hersh. Isn't it great to wake up on a Monday morning to a flurry of denials and back-spins for a magazine article? Hersh's work is having the same impact as Daniel Ellberg's Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post's Watergate stories.

The New Yorker, with Hersh's riveting reporting, added May Day fervor to the newsstand shelves, trumping the typical tabloid box-office coverage of Brad Pitt's trip to Troy and the Olsen twins' New York adventures. At the same time, a group of Durham high school students took to print to offer their alternative vision to Teen People and One Tree Hill.

Few end-of-semester, yearbook-time high school publications show as much courage and honesty as Breaking the Silence: A Journal of our Thoughts, the culminating project of Durham School of the Arts' Gay Straight Alliance. A diverse group of contributors--male and female, from all grades, some gay and some straight--wrote from their hearts about issues of sexuality, fear, teasing and stereotyping, aloneness and confidence, insiders and outsiders, tolerance and intolerance.

"School is a place where future dreams take root. As educators, we believe our most sacred job is to send every young person into the world to achieve his or her dream," writes Lee Vrana and Kelly Lynn Mulvey, faculty co-sponsors of DSA's Gay Straight Alliance. Vrana and Mulvey contribute their own work to Breaking the Silence, adding to the very personal voices, some with by-lines, some anonymous.

"At DSA, we are lucky to have such a supportive community," says Mulvey. "The students developed the idea, gathered submissions and designed the layout." A formal reading was held in the school's courtyard and 350 copies of the journal were distributed to faculty, students and other local high schools. Mulvey said the project grew out of yearlong discussions at the school where students expressed frustration that the very difficult stories they carried inside them didn't have a forum.

"The students were the driving force," Mulvey emphasizes. "I am honored that they invited me to take part." Breaking the Silence is an appropriate name for such poignant first-person glimpses about being gay in high school. Words aren't wasted; anguish often gives way to relief as each personal story unfolds.

  • www.newyorker.com
  • Breaking the Silence: klm4@alumni.duke.edu

    Contributing writer John Valentine can be reached at ajcg@acpub.duke.edu

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