Eight years ago, in New Castle, Indiana, I spent the first three hours of the day in my high school field house. Not by choice, because it smelled like mildew, but because someone called in a bomb threat. A bomb threat that focused on the small group of high schoolers who were partaking in the Day of Silence. E
The Day of Silence is a national day of action in which students vow an entire day of silence to draw attention to the continuing bullying and harassment of LGBT students.
At my high school the national event was also the cause of a major rift in the halls. There were supporters who made T-shirts with rainbows, unicorns and encouraging quotes. On the other hand there were students who made shirts to battle the silent protestors, which had quotes like “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and “silly faggot, d**ks are for chicks.” (My favorite hate inspired shirt was worn by a blind student that read “I may be blind but I can see STRAIGHT!”)
Regrettably, I wasn’t as brave as the few queers who proudly put on their puffy-painted shirts, and spent the day with my head down hoping not to draw attention to myself. I was silent for an entirely different reason, but even out of fear the silence wasn’t doing much. I knew then, and I know now, that I should have held my head up, broke the silence and educated that blind student.
I understand the mission behind the Day of Silence, but I never understood why silence was the best route of action.
According to GLSEN’s latest National School Climate Survey 56 percent of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 38 percent because of their gender expression. More than half of LGBT students reported hearing school staff make homophobic remarks. Nearly a third had missed a day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
But people don’t learn from silence. The silence is drowned out by the bigotry spewed daily. The silence is not a way for queer voices to be heard. And even if we were screaming at the top of our lungs 364 days of the year why would we take a day off?
People need to know of our presence, and learn to live with it. People need to learn that we are not like them, but that is okay. People aren’t going to learn this from our silence.
Some may feel empowerment in the choice to remain silent, but for me, the silence is not a far stretch from rolling over and admitting defeat. On that day eight years ago I admitted defeat. I let fear take control. Had I been a bit older, a bit queerer, a bit braver I would have stood up and said something.
Silence isn’t a weapon we should be battling with, words are.