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Day of Silence Goes Virtual But Stays Visible

Soli Guzman and Day of Silence buttons
Student activist Soli Guzman

LGBTQ youth will still draw attention to silence and erasure, then break the silence with a livestreamed rally.

A day to observe silence -- and eventually to break it -- may be just what a lot of LGBTQ young people sheltering at home need.

Some may not feel free to be their authentic selves at home, and even those who do are likely feeling the loss of the community they had at school, with gay-straight alliances and other groups, says Soli Guzman, a student organizer for GLSEN's Day of Silence. "Not having that [community] right now has been very difficult," says Guzman, a senior at the Athenian School in Danville, Calif., and a member of GLSEN's National Student Council.

That's all the more reason to participate in the Day of Silence, happening today, and joining a virtual rally to break the silence, streaming on Facebook Live at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, according to Guzman and other GLSEN activists. The rally is set to attract thousands of students nationwide.

This is the 25th anniversary of the Day of Silence, in which LGBTQ students and allies stay silent in their schools to call attention to the silence and erasure of LGBTQ youth. Now most students aren't in school, so they'll observe silence at home if possible, join the virtual event, and engage in other forms of advocacy.

"It was absolutely obvious to us that virtual was the way to go," given the current health situation in the U.S. and elsewhere, says Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, GLSEN's deputy executive director. GLSEN officials had thought about taking the event online anyway, but "this really forced our hand," she says.

It may be hard for young people to adhere to silence at home or in online classes, Guzman notes, so everyone will observe it in their own way. She does plan to be silent: "I'm doing a day of meditation and just a day of reflection for myself."

Guzman, who identifies as pansexual and is active in her school's GSA, was heavily involved in planning this year's Day of Silence. Among other things, she designed a zine for the day that includes LGBTQ young people's stories, art, poetry, playlists, and suggestions for activism and self-care.

GLSEN is also launching a voter registration drive in conjunction with the observance, called Break the Silence! Your Vote, Your Voice. LGBTQ youth are the most politically active youth demographic in the country, Willingham-Jaggers notes.

There are many reasons for them to be politically active. "There are still parts of the LGBTQ community who are being erased," Willingham-Jaggers says, especially transgender and nonbinary people. Guzman cites deadnaming and restrictive restroom policies as issues often faced by trans and nonbinary students.

LGBTQ people may also face oppression for other parts of their identity, with white supremacists' attacks on immigrants and people of color, Willingham-Jaggers points out. Guzman adds that not all students have access to a curriculum that includes information on LGBTQ rights, history, and cultural contributions; she feels fortunate to live in California, which mandates such inclusion. Those are all issues to ponder during the Day of Silence and to inspire activism, they say.

The virtual rally to break the silence is scheduled to feature influencers and celebrities. Confirmed participants include Emma Gonzalez, an advocate for both LGBTQ rights and gun control who organized the March for Our Lives, and Tan France, Queer Eye's fashion expert. Others are to be announced.

"We're really excited about our opportunity to break the silence together and take action," Willingham-Jaggers says. Guzman adds, "It's not only a day of activism, it's a day of remembrance ... it's also a day of celebration to show that we are here and we are visible." Even while sheltering at home.

Go here for more information on the Day of Silence.

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