Every year on April 12, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) organizes an event known worldwide as Day of Silence. Day of Silence is practiced by students in the club, alongside staff and any other students wishing to participate in the event to spread awareness for LGBT students who face discrimination or violence in school.
“The day is an LGBT protest for kids that feel like they have been silenced,” says SAGA advisor and math teacher Marla Baber. “The idea is to bring attention to the fact that people are being silenced by being silent.” Individuals who have been silent and unable to express their sexuality for so long are now living in a place where many accept them. This is the opportunity to feel proud, and to be open about it. Day of Silence started in 1996, when students at the University of Virginia organized it in response to a class assignment on non-violent protests with over 150 students participating. Just a year later, almost 100 colleges and universities participated. In 2001, the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) became the official organizational sponsor for the event. Since then, Day of Silence has reached students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as places as far away as New Zealand, Singapore, and Russia. More than 10,000 students register for Day of Silence in participation with GLSEN every year, and public figures such as Laverne Cox, Jim Parsons, and RuPaul have shown their support.
According to a report from GLSEN, “Nearly nine in ten LGBT students experience verbal harassment, and almost a third miss school for feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.”
It seems as though the majority supports Day of Silence, but there are still some who oppose its message. In 2016, journalist Ken Schneck of The Huffington Post wrote an article stating, “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 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.”
Along with Schneck, Grant student Mackenzie Lawrence agrees. “The way straight people should be learning is by participating with LGBT-identifying people and actively trying to give their platform to people who have experienced homophobia or discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Looking back in history like the Stonewall Riots people like Marsha P. Johnson who were never silent, never ashamed and gave their lives to making sure no other LGBT people ever had to stay silent or stay ashamed of who they are,” said Lawrence. Progress is not made by staying silent and obeying, but through speaking out.
Since its beginning, Day of Silence has received backlash from several religious affiliations and groups. In 2005, the Alliance Defense Fund, which defends Christians beliefs, began sponsoring a yearly counter-protest called the Day of Truth. A card carried by participants in the Day of Truth says: “true tolerance means that people with differing viewpoints can freely exchange ideas and respectfully listen to each other. It’s time for an honest conversation about homosexuality. There’s freedom to change if you want to. Let’s talk.” This is different than Day of Silence because it encourages conversation, but for the wrong cause. The ADF is only interested in talking about homosexuality as a sin; this perpetuates discrimination in schools.
“The way straight people should be learning is by …
actively trying to give a platform to people who have
In April 2010, in opposition to Day of Silence, several students in Laingsburg High School in Michigan wore T-shirts stating “Straight Pride” on the front side and a reference to Leviticus 20:13 on the back, a Bible verse that refers to homosexual behavior as an abomination and prescribes death as the penalty for it. The same protest also took place in the St. Johns and Bath school districts. This unsuccessful protest did nothing but spread hate and fear to the community.
Other socially conservative organizations, including the American Family Association, Mission America, Traditional Values Coalition, and Liberty Counsel, opposed the Day of Silence in 2008 by forming a group and urging parents to keep their kids home on Day of Silence if students at their school were practicing it. While keeping LGBT students safe is a top priority, could there be other ways of spreading the word about safety and representation in our schools?
Baber admits that Franklin’s Day of Silence was not as noticeable due to the campus change and all of the attention surrounding that. “In a place where a lot of staff and students participate, it becomes very obvious. Unfortunately here there was not a lot of people participating this year. I think when Day of Silence is done very strongly, it makes people think about how someone may feel being silent.”