Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are being harassed, targeted and bullied at staggering rates. We must stand together side-by-side and protest the status quo for our LGBT brothers and sisters. We must place ourselves in front of the educational powers that be, look them in the eye and demand action. We must take our outrage at the plight of LGBT youth, muster up our desire for change and... be silent?
And so continues my tortured relationship with the Day of Silence, which will take place in just a few days on Friday, April 19. First organized by students at the University of Virginia in 1996, the Day of Silence went national in 1997 and has been sponsored by GLSEN for the past 13 years.
The idea is simple: Students take a vow of silence "in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT."I so desperately want to support this day. I want to champion it without reservation. And it actually has all the earmarks of an event into which I would normally throw myself:
- An action designed to support LGBT students? Check.
- An action initiated by students? Check.
- An action sponsored by my hero organization GLSEN, with whom I desperately want to be employed one day? Check.
Instead, I get stuck on that word "silence," and I cringe. Thoroughly and completely cringe.
LGBT youth are getting bullied, and we protest by being silent. Teachers and administrators are not doing all they can do to protect these at-risk youth, and we demonstrate by being silent. Our schools are not as safe as they could be, and we rally by being silent.
This could be my impatience for change, my overwhelming feeling that we could be doing more or my recent watching of How to Survive a Plague, but I want to see a different type of disruption than silence. I want to see us raising our voices, not dampening them. I want to see us demanding attention, not surrendering our speech.
To be clear, I do see value in the Day of Silence, but I think that said value is more for our straight allies than for our LGBT students. I'm all for the former walking a mile (or at least a few hours) in the latter's oppressed shoes, experiencing the silence foisted on gay youth by the current educational climate. But for those gay youth, the Day of Silence should be anything but quiet. LGBT students should be granted amnesty to shout at the top of their lungs. To ask them to be silent just perpetuates their bullied reality. They should be given free rein on the Day of Silence to yell and scream and, most importantly, disrupt as their lives are disrupted daily by peers, faculty and staff who are stealing their voices.
Let those who want to be silent do so. But let our LGBT youth protest loudly in a way that makes our educational institutions truly pause even as it feeds the spirit of those gay students yearning to speak. That would be a Day of Silence I could support.