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Silent for 10
years

Silent for 10
years

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For 10 years, high school students across the nation have been taking part in the Day of Silence. They hold their tongues to raise awareness about the struggles faced by gays and lesbians, and they learn a little something about their fellow students.

As I began planning for the 2006 National Day of Silence, I did so with caution. This year in my school we took every measure possible to ensure students would be comfortable and safe during their participation. Despite our caution, we also planned out quiet protest with great enthusiasm. As a student leader for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which founded the Day of Silence, I was excited about the activities that I was a part of organizing, both in my school and beyond. It turns out that excitement is contagious.

The Day of Silence, now in its 10th year, is the largest student-led silent protest in history. It has become one of the most productive and effective means the LGBT community has established for creating change in American schools. While it is only one day a year, the Day of Silence, during which LGBT students and their allies remain silent to raise awareness about gay issues, is an invaluable factor in a much larger effort in the safer schools movement, and it often opens the door for discussion and change in even the smallest schools. My school of roughly 700 in is a great example. I'd like to offer you a unique perspective on the Day of Silence, and I'd like to invite you to share in my experience as an active participant in an amazing day of silent protest.

The Day of Silence starts just as any other day in my high school in Havre de Grace, Md. But it is oddly quiet throughout the school. Despite the fact that hundreds of students have chosen not to be involved in the Day of Silence, the silence of participants somehow echoes. We wear red shirts, many of us wear stickers, and we all hand out papers called speaking cards, which will be our only form of communication during our vow of silence.

Jessie Liberatore is appearing in this ad from the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which is running in the Washington Post on the Day of Silence. Liberatore and other GLSEN leaders are in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to release the 2005 National School Climate Survey at a National Press Club event.

The school day begins in homeroom, where our attendance is taken and school announcements are made. In some classes teachers give short speeches about the Day of Silence to their students. They tolerate discussions and many even engage in the conversation before beginning their day's lesson. This open dialogue about LGBT students is an important component of the Day of Silence. But the major effects of the Day of Silence are not found in the classroom. They are found by leaving the quiet of the class and entering the cramped corridors of our school.

We all have commonalities, and yet we are somehow intensely different. In walking among my classmates, participants and nonparticipants alike, I see how our differences are magnified. We are in search of the common ground that we have abandoned today; as friends see friends in red, as acquaintances question our silence, and as teachers watch the interactions of their pupils, we find ourselves faced with a daunting responsibility--to educate.

We educate through our participation in the Day of Silence, and in return we learn as much as we teach. Perhaps one of the most valuable means of learning is through example. Our silent message is the loudest one we offer. I have learned that no matter how reasonable, no matter how kind, and no matter how right the words that I speak may be, there will always be the option for those who do not want to believe in what I say to disregard my opinions. In turn, I have learned that not just our words truly speak for us; rather, our actions speak for us. The things that we do will convey the most about who we are and what we believe in. It is difficult for people who know us to ignore our actions; it is always harder to discount someone as a person than it is to disregard their words and thought.

During my final class change on the Day of Silence last year, I was walking through the halls when suddenly I heard a boy I knew ask his friend, "Aren't you ashamed to be participating?" I was considering breaking my vow of silence when a girl turned around to face him, and as she looked him squarely in the eyes, she asked, "Aren't you ashamed that you're not?" She did not preach to him and did not tell him he was wrong, but by asking a single question and then walking away, she forced him to assess the actions of the Day of Silence participants. This boy heard no speeches on the Day of Silence, but because of one question and the actions of 50 people whose names he knew and whom he had grown up with, he apologized to me, his friend, and the girl who had asked him if he was ashamed. This year, though he will not be taking a vow of silence, he will be wearing a red T-shirt on the Day of Silence. Clearly, he's moving in the right direction. I'm just proud to have been a part of it.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Jessie Liberatore