Damian Ball, a senior at Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup, has been selected to receive a Youth Activist Scholarship Award in recognition of his work for civil liberties. The $4,000 college scholarship is one of 14 awarded by the American Civil Liberties Union to high school students around the nation.
"Damian Ball is an outstanding advocate for the cause of equal rights for all. We hope his example will inspire other students to become activists for justice,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington.
Damian received the award because of his demonstrated commitment to working for equal treatment of all students as an activist with the Gay-Straight Alliance at Emerald Ridge High School. In the face of concerted opposition, the Alliance courageously carried out a protest action to raise awareness about the harassment of gay students. Damian participated in that action and currently serves as the leader of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.
Founded in 2000, the Alliance has provided support and advocacy for individuals facing difficulties due to their sexual orientation. In the fall of 2001, Alliance members began planning to participate in the coming April’s National Day of Silence, an annual event designed to spread awareness of the need to combat intolerance. While they anticipated that the event might catch some flak, they did not realize the degree of controversy it would generate. Mobilized by local conservative religious forces, some parents objected that the Day of Silence was wrongly promoting “the gay agenda.” Several dozen parents pressured the district to stop the Day, they pressed their case on the letters page of Tacoma’s The News Tribune, and some threatened to vote against the district school levy in protest. The school board and principal stood behind the right of students to hold the event, and the Day of Silence took place without major incident. Around 50 students kept their vow to remain silent, close to 200 wore rainbow ribbons in support, and others wore a Day of Silence sticker.
Many useful dialogues among students resulted, both before and after the event. “Both students and parents have learned valuable lessons about free speech – and about the pain and ugliness that gay and lesbian students sometimes suffer in their school environment,” said an editorial in The News Tribune. In November 2002, Emerald Ridge’s Gay-Straight Alliance became the first recipient of the ACLU of Washington’s newly established Youth Activist Award.
Damian began working against discrimination while in junior high. He played a leadership role in a student club – Students Together Against Negative Discrimination – that presented an all-school assembly about sexual harassment and created a pamphlet about discrimination. In high school, he became determined to participate in the Day of Silence after hearing negative comments about it from other students. Energized and inspired by his experience at the Day, Damian became the “arbiter” for the Gay-Straight Alliance this academic year. As club leader, he oversees GSA projects, including planning for the 2003 Day of Silence.
“I cringe at the thought of what might happen to our country if people don’t stand up for what is right, even if they are standing alone. It is every person’s job to defend the civil liberties of others; there is not any other way to ensure that we will all remain free. I stand firmly resolved to do my best to make sure that ideas that promote human rights and civil liberties, regardless of their popularity, are not suppressed,” said Damian.