This Friday, April 16, is the National Day of Silence, when students across America can show solidarity with their peers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) by taking a vow of silence so as to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.
What is the National Day of Silence?
The idea is simple. Students from middle school right up to college age and beyond choose to take a vow of silence so as to draw attention to the debilitating effects that bullying and harassment has on LGBT students and those that are perceived to be LGBT. In essence, the silence is representative of that which is forced on the often unheard victims of bullying.
The event began in 1996 when over 150 students at the University of Virginia organized a Day of Silence to draw attention to homophobia and anti-gay harassment. The Day of Silence was covered extensively by the local press and was largely well received by the UVA community, which made the event’s organizers think it would be a good idea to expand to a National Day of Silence. Since then, the event has grown year on year, with similar events now being held in other countries such as Australia. For more on the history of the National Day of Silence, please click here.
Below is a video of former boy band member and LGBT rights advocate Lance Bass further explaining the National Day of Silence in a 2009 PSA:
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which sponsors the Day of Silence, is quick to emphasize that students wishing to participate should first consult with their teachers. Seeking the school’s permission is essential for many reasons, but chiefly it ensures that participation in the National Day of Silence is not disruptive to the school day as a whole, and it also makes teachers and school administrators aware that there is a desire to engage and participate in the Day of Silence activities.
While, for obvious reasons, it may be impractical to take a vow of silence in class, most schools will be happy to at least allow students to observe the silence during breaks and lunchtimes.
When asked about the National Day of Silence, participants might like to give out cards or leaflets with the following message (that can be downloaded from the website, links provided below) so as to make others aware of what the event is all about:
“Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-calling, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?”
There are, however, many different ways to get involved with the National Day of Silence, and therefore, while the actual vow of silence itself may not be practical for some people, it is usually the case that a student can find some way of sharing their commitment to the event, even if it is through something as simple as handing out National Day of Silence fliers in between classes and at breaks, or wearing a National Day of Silence badge. You can print-off and make your own posters and materials by going to the Day of Silence website.
Why Take Part in the National Day of Silence?
From the GLSEN press release:
Research has continually shown that anti-LGBT bullying is commonplace in American schools.
Two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a 2005 Harris Interactive report commissioned by GLSEN. The top reason was physical appearance.
Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students.
The report also found that 3 out of 5 LGBT youth (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
It is also apparent that any form of bullying has a detrimental effect on all students because it creates a hostile environment. As such, the National Day of Silence is not about pushing a “liberal” or “gay” agenda as some have claimed. Instead, it is about creating a safe climate for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We can all agree that bullying is wrong. Similarly, we all know how harmful bullying can be.
There have been many high-profiled cases of bullying against students over their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, and several that have led to fatal consequences.
Perhaps one of the most sobering incidents was the murder of 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King who self identified as gay and wore gender non-conforming attire to school. On February 12, 2008, while sat in class, Lawrence King was shot twice at point blank range by another student, allegedly because of his sexuality. To find out more about Lawrence King’s story, you can click here.
Last year, just days before the 2009 Day of Silence, 11-year-old Massachusetts student Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his own life after suffering a campaign of sustained bullying over his perceived sexuality. You can read more about Carl’s tragic story by going here.
Commenting on her son’s death in the Springfield Republican, Carl’s mother said:
“If anything can come of this, it’s that another child doesn’t have to suffer like this and there can be some justice for some other child. I don’t want any other parent to go through this.”
There’s Still Time to Take Part
Around 6,000 schools have registered to take part in this year’s National Day of Silence so far. If you would still like to be involved but have not had a chance to organize any activities yet, here are a few ideas that require little effort.
The following are three suggestions provided by GLSEN. They are aimed at students, and are quick and hopefully easy to participate in:
The Silent Lunch
Ask some friends or school groups to join you and gather at a table or area for a silent lunch to recognize the Day of Silence. End this period by spending some time discussing how you feel LGBT students and their allies are silenced because of harassment, discrimination and abuse, and brainstorm ways you can help end the silence.
Ask a supportive teacher to let you talk for five minutes at the beginning of class about what the Day of Silence is, and why you think it’s important. Or you can ask to include DOS in your school announcements for the day.
Write a letter to the editor for your school newspaper. You can write about why the Day of Silence is important to you, tell a story about your feelings and experiences of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, or explain the importance of student demonstrations in school.
Now, a few ideas for everyone else, whether directly involved with schools or not.
For those who enjoy social networking, for example on Twitter, users might like to allow their own personal updates to go silent on Friday. Instead, they can re-tweet National Day of Silence tweets from @dayofsilence who will be posting throughout the day.
In this way, you are observing the spirit of the National Day of Silence by being silent yourself, but still spreading the message of what the National Day of Silence is all about. (You can also use the hashtag “#DayofSilence” when posting on Twitter so that others can find your Day of Silence related tweets.)
Similarly, if you are on Facebook or any other social networking site that allows you to post a message or a status update, you can dedicate that space to spreading the word about the National Day of Silence this Friday, perhaps also including a link to the website so that other people can find out more about why you have chosen to participate.
There are plenty of other ways that people can get involved with the National Day of Silence. You can go to the DOS website for more inspiration.
Links and Resources:
Support the Safe Schools Improvement Act:
Sign the petition today!
Support the Student Non-Discrimination Act:
Sign the petition today!
GLSEN - Used as part of the Day of Silence Promotion Campaign.
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