Shutting Up to Get a Point Across


The National Day of Silence is a grass roots project that uses silence as a form of protest against the silence LGBT people have had to endure. Students in nearly 1,800 middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities in 49 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have registered to participate. See the full list here. The following is one organizer's story.

I was in middle school when I first discovered the Day of Silence. I couldn't wait to get to high school, where I could finally be myself (so I thought). I had come out to my closest friends only weeks earlier, and while they were not displeased, they were not especially thrilled either (in my naive confusion, I had expected them to welcome my self-discovery with open arms...). But when I ran across the Day of Silence website, I recognized it as a chance to prove to them that I was a different person than the "straight John" they all knew.

I immediately began making plans to be a one-man diversity action team. I figured out how much it would cost to produce the speaking cards, and how I could get my teachers to agree to it. Then, I looked at a calendar. April 6th, the Day of Silence in 2000, fell on spring break!! My ambition plummeted, and I was devastated. Soon, however, I forgot I had ever even heard of the whole thing.

The following is the "speaking card" participants of the National Day of Silence hand out.
Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?

When I got to high school, the freedom I felt was amazing. I was finally able to separate myself from the assumptions made during the three years of middle school. I began wearing pride jewelry, and soon I was known all over the 1600-student campus as "the gay guy." At the time, I thought that this was a magnificent improvement, especially from my quasi-closeted middle school days.

Eventually I started thinking about the Day of Silence again. However, this time, before I got my hopes up, I consulted a calendar and discovered that (Praise the Lord!) the Day of Silence was not during spring break! I gathered a small group of not-as-out-as-me gay and lesbian teens in my school, and we went to work planning Henry Clay High School's first Day of Silence.

We practically ran the project out of my 4th hour class, which I had with an out lesbian friend of mine. I would go home, print out the cards, posters, letters, etc. and come to school, and all through our Geometry class, Elizabeth and I would be cutting out speaking cards, or signing participant guidelines, or reworking the budget to get in just a few more flyers. We ran the project on a $40 budget, using photocopied speaking cards and only twenty flyers, all of which were torn down within hours of being put up.

Finally the day approached, and we were scared. It looked as if we were going to have MAYBE five people participating. And that was stretching it. On the Tuesday afternoon beforehand, we had an after-school meeting for all of those interested. Only two people showed up. Elizabeth and I went home in dismay. We were still going to do it, but it was not going to have nearly the impact that we had hoped it would.

Elizabeth and I both got to school half an hour early on the Day of Silence. We wanted to be prepared to speak to people before the vow of silence began at 8:30. When we walked in the front doors of the school, we were rushed by a mass of people wanting to participate. In fact, it seemed as if we might not have materials for them all! By 8:30, we had thirty five people participating, and we were satisfied. However, that day was a state testing day, and thus, we had a school-wide snack break at 10:00. At that point, fifteen more people signed up with me, and again at lunch, even more people got speaking cards from me to join.
Check out Broder 13 dot com for the story of a young man struggling to be openly gay in a close-minded town, and his encounter with hate.

By the end of the Day, Elizabeth and I estimated that approximately seventy people had participated officially, and many more had done so without approaching us for materials. We were amazed. We had thought that we would be the only people in the school participating. It was a very sweet surprise.

This year, we have been much more organized. We are in the final stages of organizing a county-wide event in three different schools, thus reaching out to 4800 or so students. We are so excited. The Day of Silence has provided an opportunity for youth to have their voices heard. I have helped to end the silence. What can you do?

John Malloy, 16, lives in Lexington, KY, and is the Southern Regional Organizer for the National Day of Silence Project 2002.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.