By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com April 20 2012 1:30 PM ET
Today marks the 17th annual Day of Silence, where LGBT students and allies sustain a vow of silence calling attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. A record 8,000 schools are participating, but that doesn't mean every student knows how it works, or what it all means. The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, has been helping schools and students organize the Day of Silence for more than a decade. With their help, thousands of students have learned about the effects of bullying. Here are a few things to know about today's festivities.
1. The Day of Silence was founded in 1996 by students at the University of Virginia with over 150 students participating in the inaugural event. In 2001, GLSEN became the official organizational sponsor for the event.
2. Nearly 90% of LGBT students report being harassed in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a GLSEN survey of 7,000 students. Thirty percent of LGBT students have missed a day of school at some point in the past month out of fear of being the target of violence.
3. To help further conversation on the Day of Silence, students carry cards with them that read: "Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today." Cards in Spanish are available here.
4. Students in any grade can organize classmates to participate in Day of Silence. GLSEN advises students to get support from school administrators. As the organization says, "Students should not assume that administrators would not support their efforts—even if they have not supported LGBT issues in the past—because it's always important to ask and provide information to win support."
5. Breaking the Silence rallies are events that some students and schools choose, at which participants come together at the end of the day to express themselves and share their experiences with members of local communities.
6. When organizing or participating in the Day of Silence, some students or faculty may run up against resistant administrators or harassment. Luckily, GLSEN and Lambda Legal will evaluate reports of such ill treatment, and possibly provide assistance.
7. Let GLSEN and the Twitterverse know how your Day of Silence campaign is going by tweeting to @DayofSilence or using #DayOfSilence