On April 17, thousands of students around Michigan and the U.S. will be silent for a cause.
But as we reflect on the meaning of the National Day of Silence, there is more to say than ever before – about the reasons students are forced to be silent. About the consequences they experience when they are not. And most importantly, about the things that are not happening to give them the protections they deserve to be able to speak freely.
People around the country were horrified recently to hear about the suicide of an 11-year-old boy from Massachusetts, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover. Walker-Hoover hung himself with an electrical cord in his bedroom and was discovered by his mom. The reason? He was being taunted by children at his school with anti-gay remarks. Though his story is not unique in that this same fate has come to many, many children – both actually LGBT and, in Hoover-Walker’s case, just perceived – it is particularly disheartening given the boy’s age.
When contemplating the reasons youth are silent for a day, think of this child who, at 11-years-old, was scarcely old enough to even begin to know himself. Before high school, before his teenage years and before puberty – three things considered to be highly stressful to young adults – Hoover-Walker was already so trapped by bullying and harassment that he saw no other way out than to take his own life. He was forever silenced at an age when most have not even found their own voice.
How bad must the bullying have been? How desperate must he have felt? How little assistance did he get from teachers and school officials?
How long before this happens in Michigan?
Michigan youth are unprotected and legislators are sitting idly on a bill that should have been passed three years ago. Will it take the horrifying death of a child so young to make Matt’s Safe School’s pass?
But there already have been horrifying deaths. Many of them, coupled with equally frightening statistics from LGBT youth who say that almost 90 percent of them have been bullied in some way. What more should it take? The proof is in the numbers: Youth, be they LGBT or not, are not safe in Michigan schools.
After slews of school shootings, we began to take extraordinary precautions to ensure that gunman can’t come into schools and harm children. It’s amazing to think that in 2009, with the number of suicides that can be directly attributed to bullying, that we still fail to protect youth from their peers and from themselves.
So when students abstain from speaking on April 17, perhaps their explanatory note cards should read “I am being silent because of legislators who will not speak up on my behalf. I am being silent because my teachers and principal are not taught to protect me. I am being silent because my voice doesn’t seem to matter.”
The Day of Silence is not just for youth, and it’s not just to commemorate those who were or are unable to speak up for themselves. It’s about all of us doing our part to make sure that LGBT youth are free to be whomever they please, so that they never have to be silent again.