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Silence Is Power on This Day

Silence Is Power on This Day


GLSEN's Camille Beredjick says Friday's Day of Silence is not just shutting up, it's standing up.

On any other day, there's nothing empowering about silence.

On any other day, silence is a symbol for oppression, inaction or avoidance. "Silencing" is synonymous with shutting down or leaving behind. In the '80s, silence equaled death. On every other day of the year, silence is forced upon LGBT people and their allies in their schools, at their workplaces, in their communities, and even through their state legislatures.

But not today.

Today is the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's Day of Silence, an annual silent protest of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Each year, tens of thousands of students participate by taking a daylong vow of silence at school and sharing speaking cards that raise awareness of anti-LGBT bullying.

The Day of Silence was first observed in 1996, when students at the University of Virginia held a day of silence as part of a class project on nonviolent protest. GLSEN became the official Day of Silence sponsor in 2000. And since then, hundreds of thousands of students have participated in the Day of Silence to show their solidarity with LGBT students and raise awareness of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.

The landscape of LGBT rights has changed dramatically since the Day of Silence was established, particularly in the last few years. We celebrated when the Supreme Court approved marriage equality, and we cheer when LGBT people appear on magazine covers, but we know that the LGBT rights movement is far from finished. From discriminatory state laws to bullying at school, it's clearer than ever that LGBT students still face a host of inequalities and injustices.

According to GLSEN's latest National School Climate Survey, nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students reported being verbally or physically harassed at school in the past year. In North Carolina and Mississippi, the rights of transgender students to express their true gender identities and safely use the school bathroom are being compromised. In Tennessee, a high school Gay-Straight Alliance is facing undue hurdles from local policy makers simply for existing.

The Day of Silence is an answer to the anti-LGBT attitudes that propel these hateful incidents because it gives the power back to LGBT youth themselves. When GLSEN's National Student Council, our team of 20 LGBT youth leaders, got together to talk about this year's Day of Silence, they came to one important conclusion: GLSEN's Day of Silence is a chance to reclaim silence as a tool of empowerment. Together, they agreed on a resounding message to encapsulate their participation in the Day of Silence this year: Silence is ours.

When LGBT students take back silence as their own today, they'll be making a statement without saying a word -- and this time, their silence won't go unnoticed. Some students will face pushback or even disciplinary action from their school administration for using their First Amendment rights. Some will be harassed by their peers, who will goad them into speaking or taunt them for supporting LGBT students. Some will even be targeted by vicious hate groups, who conflate a silent anti-bullying protest with disturbing the peace.

In fact, it's the very people who bully LGBT youth into silence year-round who will come out in droves to protest these students' autonomy today. But thousands more supporters will come forward to ask questions, learn about the issue, and commend these students for their bravery. That's what the Day of Silence is all about.

The Day of Silence was important when it was created 20 years ago, and it's just as important today. Even in the face of unprecedented national victories for LGBT people, LGBT students still find themselves fighting for basic rights to a safe, inclusive and affirming education in communities all over the country. Nobody should be scared to go to school, but so many are. And that's why today, LGBT students are choosing silence: to make those inequalities known.

If you're participating in GLSEN's Day of Silence, we invite you to add your name to the list of people taking action in solidarity with LGBT students. And if you're an ally who's not taking a vow of silence today, we encourage you to visit to learn how you can support those who are.

On April 15, silence is chosen. Silence is power. Silence is strength. And for the students participating today, silence is theirs.

CAMILLE BEREDJICK is GLSEN's youth engagement associate.

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