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Each year in April, GLSEN, the nation’s leading organization on LGBTQ issues in K-12 education, hosts the annual Day of Silence, a student-led protest to call attention to the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students.
Started by two college students at the University of Virginia in 1996, the Day of Silence, this year on April 23, spreads awareness of the harmful effects of LGBTQ erasure by taking a day-long vow of silence.
Many school Gender and Sexuality Alliance clubs (GSAs) encourage students to participate, and some students will even create signs or buttons explaining why they’ve chosen to remain silent.
“There’s data showing that four in five LGBTQ students don’t see positive LGBTQ representation in their curriculum,” notes a.t. furuya, the senior youth programs manager at GLSEN. “Nearly 9 in 10 students have experienced harassment or assault, and almost a third missed school because they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. So we need to start the conversations around this.”
This year’s Day of Silence is taking place virtually for many students due to the COVID-19 pandemic and schools opting to have students work from home rather than attend classes in person.
To help with this, GLSEN is offering Zoom backgrounds that students can utilize while signed into virtual classes and is holding a national moment of silence at 3 p.m. EST for students who can’t be silent.
The day will end with a “Breaking the Silence” virtual rally at 7 p.m., featuring various speakers, including celebrities like Zachary Quinto, JoJo Siwa, and Alok Vaid-Menon.
For those in person, GLSEN offers protective COVID-19 masks advertising the day of silence and printable cards they can hand out explaining their decision to participate.
This year’s theme, “My Silence, My Story,” seeks to highlight individual stories and struggles, which feel particularly relevant at a time when LGBTQ students, particularly transgender individuals, find themselves under attack by bills being pushed in close to 30 state legislatures.
“This Day of Silence is an especially critical one as anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers across the nation continue to ignore youth advocates and push harmful bans that constituents and experts alike condemn,” GLSEN Interim Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said in a statement. “These bills seek to strip youth of their rights and pressure them into silence, so it’s inspiring to see how students have turned the idea of silence on its head by coming together to build power and change hearts and minds in their communities.”
Students who have participated in the Day of Silence in past years have praised the intention behind the event and say they’ve largely found support, both nationally by GLSEN and locally, by individual administrators.
“Day of Silence has always been important to me, but after a year of the pandemic it’s especially meaningful to have the chance to connect and share my experiences with others,” Nic Oke, a high school student at Towson High School in Baltimore County, and a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council, said in a statement.
“This is such a difficult time for LGBTQ+ youth, but we’ll keep fighting for change, together. No matter where students are or what their school setup looks like at this point in the pandemic, they and their friends, families and teachers can join Day of Silence’s events and learn from the resources.”
Suraj Singareddy, another member of GLSEN’s National Student Council from Northview High School in Georgia, says the Day of Silence allows LGBTQ students to reclaim the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ students that can occur in a school environment for themselves, in order to send an important message to other students about the negative impacts of exclusion.
“I participated in the Day of Silence last year, and my school’s GSA got pins from GLSEN basically saying why we were silent and what we were doing, and pretty much all the teachers were pretty accepting. But I’m lucky to be going to a school where our faculty is pretty accepting,” Singareddy notes.
Roxana Solis, a student at Falls Church High School who is the president and treasurer of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance club, says she’s using the day to raise awareness of, and promote participation in, GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, which examines, in part, how LGBTQ students are treated, the problems they face, and whether they’ve experienced any number of self-harming behaviors because of their treatment in school.
Solis says, through her role as a leader in the GSA, she has educated faculty and fellow students, both in her school and other institutions, about the significance of the Day of Silence and its overall message.
“For the most part, a lot of students are really supportive and they understand like what’s going on, because I usually hand out like little signs or papers saying it’s the Day of Silence and explaining what it is,” she says. “I think something important to know that it’s not exclusively reserved for people in the LGBTQ community, but people outside the community. Our supporters can also be attacked sometimes.
“It’s important for people to know that being silent for one day, or even one moment of silence, means a huge deal for all of us, because it shows support and sends a message that we are not alone,” Solis says.
For more information about the Day of Silence, visit www.glsen.org/day-of-silence.
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