by ERIN CLARK and THOMAS PUGH - Members of the school LGBTQ+ community participate in GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence.
WESTFIELD, Ind. (April 12, 2019) - One Friday every April, the message of awareness and acceptance is nonverbally spread throughout a seemingly normal school day. This quite literally unspoken protest is GLSEN’s Day of Silence, a day where participants take a vow of silence in order to highlight the silencing of LGBTQ+ students.
“The Day of Silence is a protest to call to mind the systematic silencing of queer youth within public schools as well as important historical figures that happen to be queer,” Clay Meador (11) said. “We don’t get to learn about them and a lot of their messages, and this day calls that to mind and is meant to bring about change.”
This vow of silence is shared across the nation for people of all ages as they draw notice to the youth of this marginalized community.
“The Day of Silence is both a reflection and protest,” Gay-Straight Alliance leader Duncan McGraw (12) said. “When we protest the erasure and silencing of other individuals, people not participating take part and understand and get a little glimpse of what it’s like to not speak your voice. For the people like us who have the opportunity to come out and can speak our minds with little to no backlash, I realized what it’s like to not have a voice.”
This lack of voice is a shared sentiment for many, including LGBTQ+ students within our own community.
“I participated because I know a lot of people who have to stay closeted because of family, the fear of being outed or things like that,” Marysol Obispo (9) said. “I was closeted for many years because of my family, so I felt I have a reason to do this and there’s a good reason to do it.”
When students feel silenced, it can be because of reasons ranging from disbelief to misunderstanding to rejection. For Obispo, it was, in a way, all of these.
“When I came out to my family, a lot of my family just thought it was a phase, which I think happens with a lot of people,” Obispo said. “I said, ‘No, I’ve been dating this person, they’re non-binary, for almost three months now.’ A lot of my family didn’t accept me right away, and a lot of them didn’t talk to me for months. On the Day of Silence, when I was quiet, people thought we were being silent just because, and nobody really wanted to know why. When they did, they were like, ‘Okay, whatever.’”
In many cases, rejection comes in more targeted forms that are built in society itself.
“I feel like I’m constantly hearing bad slurs about the gay community,” Gabriel Hess (9) said. “It’s often stupid hearing people say these things, and I feel like I should just ignore it, but at the same time, I want to say something, so in doing the Day of Silence, I got to be proud. I got to wear my gay shirt for the first time, and it was nice to be able to do that with my friends.”
Many teachers are also actively involved in making the protest a positive experience and demonstrating what the silence means within the community.
“I will say, shoutout to HT, when I first did it last year, she did a really good job of explaining what was going on,” McGraw said. “She read a post-it note that I gave out to people asking why I was staying silent and then gave her insight on it, and it really helped me to feel like I wasn’t just being silent the whole day. It made me feel like I was having an impact on people, and that was really good because that made feel much better than just being quiet in class and not talking to people.”
While silence is a great way to make an impact for some, it also limits the ways other participants can actually communicate their message, especially if awareness is not spread beforehand.
“For me, the importance is spreading awareness because it’s one thing to participate and not tell anybody why, and then you just look angsty and silent for the whole day,” Meador said. “If that’s what you want to do, then whatever floats your boat, but I think the bringing awareness is sharing information about why it’s something that’s important and worth participating in is more important than participating in it.”
Because sharing proved to be difficult for many participants, misunderstanding continued as students struggled with the feeling of not having done enough.
“It was just people being quiet and not a lot of people knew why, and we couldn’t explain because we’re not talking, and I wish we could have done more,” Hess said. “When I came out I didn’t really have as much of a thing as [Marysol] did, my family was pretty accepting, which was nice, but I know people do face stuff like that, and people shouldn’t have to go through that.”
Still, with the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community in mind, students participating in the Day of Silence gave the best effort to speak without speaking.
“I really think it is the first step in protest, it really gets the high schoolers and middle schoolers involved in an issue that they don’t feel like it’s really their time to take the step,” McGraw said. “When you’re younger, you’re like ‘I can’t really make any moves, I’m just a little guy,’ but when you join a giant group in a class setting, people start to take notice in that first step in standing up for what you believe in.”
A message from GLSEN (courtesy of Mrs. Holly Wheeler, who co-sponsors GSA with Mrs. Dawn Knight at WHS. All are welcome in this club at WHS, and it’s never too late to join.)
“Today, I’m silent for the Day of Silence -- a national youth movement highlighting the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people.
“Four in five LGBTQ students don’t see positive LGBTQ representation in their curriculum, eight in ten experience anti-LGBTQ verbal harrasment, and over a third miss school for feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
“But together, we can break the silence, making our community more inclusive for all. Join me by texting SILENCE to 21333 or visiting glsen.org/dayofsilence
“Think about the voices you are NOT hearing. What are you doing to break the silence?”
For more information, click here.