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Commemorating the 20th Day of Silence

By |2016-04-07T09:00:00-04:00April 7th, 2016|Michigan, News|

BY AJ TRAGER

Students from around the world will take a vow of silence April 15 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 of LGBT students and those perceived as LGBT.
Twenty years ago, over 150 students from the University of Virginia organized the first Day of Silence as a response to a class assignment discussing nonviolent protests. A year later, in 1997, organizers took the effort nationally and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. Today, the vow has reached students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and is even celebrated in countries with harsh anti-LGBT laws, such as Russia.
“The Day of Silence came to GLSEN in 2001 and had a different life form before that. The day started primarily in high schools, but once GLSEN took it over we focused on middle and high school students. Ever since then it’s incredible how the momentum has stayed so strong even as we’ve seen progress in other avenues of LGBT rights in the last 20 years. We can have marriage equality and we can have Don’t Ask Don’t Tell struck down, but the numbers don’t lie and LGBT youth still face abysmal levels of bullying and harassment in schools,” said Camille Beredjick, Youth Engagement Associate at GLSEN.
Every year, more than 10,000 students ranging from middle school to college register their Day of Silence participation with GLSEN.
Those participating will be silent during non-instructional time: the breaks between classes, before and after the school day, lunchtime and any other free times allotted. Students do not have the right to remain silent during class time if a teacher asks for speaking participation. It is recommended that students speak to teachers ahead of time, inform them of what the silence entails and aims to do and ask if it would be okay to communicate via writing for the duration of the protest day. GLSEN provides printable info sheets that students can provide faculty and administration.
There is no single way to participate in the Day of Silence. The event is most successful when schools and students work together to show their commitment to creating a safe environment for all students in and outside the classroom.
“It’s inspiring to see so many young people who want to speak out about anti-LGBT bullying and harassment and want to make that problem known,” Beredjick said. “You see people get so into it. And for a lot of them it can be an entry point to doing more LGBT activism, the growth and steadiness of which the momentum has maintained over the last 20 years, even though the landscape for LGBT people in general is getting a little bit better. It’s impressive.”
According to GLSEN, 141 Michigan students have registered for the 2016 Day of Silence. Beredjick notes that that number is significantly lower than what the official numbers will be, as the majority of participating youth register two to three days before the protest day.
Many critics of the protest downplay the number of people who support addressing anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment. According to results found in the “GLSEN 2013 National School Climate Survey,” nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school and more than 30 percent report having missed at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety.

Local Day of Silence Causes Change

While the event was not hosted on the official Day of Silence, a group of students from Arts Academy in the Woods, a speciality arts high school located in Warren, hosted their own Day of Silence earlier in the year to protest negative treatment of trans students by certain members of the school faculty.
Luca, a trans sophomore from AAW, told BTL that a small number of faculty members were choosing to disregard the preferred pronouns and names of trans and gender non-conforming students. In response, a group of students planned a silent protest that garnered participation from one-third of the student body. Participating students placed duct tape on their mouths or clothes and handed out slips of paper describing why they were protesting.
“We had a few teachers who weren’t listening and were being extremely rude to the gender queer folk and weren’t respecting gender names and the like. So we thought, ‘What if we wore duct tape for the whole day?’ We had a bunch of people help us. At one point, I was standing in the hallway and there were people calling for me to give them some duct tape. It was really successful,” he said.
The protest was so successful that the offending faculty have since amended their behavior and are respecting the names and pronouns of trans and gender non-conforming youth.
“I think the beauty of the Day of Silence is that students who participate can make it into whatever they want it to be. In the past we have seen that some students will cater the event to something particular that is happening at their school, like if there’s an incident students have dedicated the Day of Silence to. Likewise, if there is an anti-LGBT bill that is up for consideration in their community, they’ll use the Day of Silence to draw attention to that bill. When it comes to bullying on the basis of gender identity and expression, I think that a lot of students can do the exact same thing,” Beredjick said.
While the Day of Silence provides an opportunity to start conversations on how to make school climate more accepting and affirming of LGBT identities and to reverse anti-LGBT harassment, not everyone shares the same values. Any student experiencing resistance to the Day of Silence is encouraged to stay calm, not react to the negative and often hurtful comments, and seek out their school’s gay-straight alliance student president and inform them of the incident. If the resistance evolves into bullying and or harassment, the student should report it to school officials, parents and/or online authorities immediately.
Students are encouraged to register their participation for the 2016 GLSEN Day of Silence at http://action.glsen.org/page/s/day-of-silence.
To learn more, visit {www.dayofsilence.org}.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.