Day of Silence Speaks Louder Than Words
On April 13, Talia Stein, a 17-year-old senior at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL, will not talk. She'll wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, and make her way to school. She'll see her friends, walk the halls, and attend class. But at no point during the day will she say a word.
Talia is a founding member of her school's Gay-Straight Alliance. She's also a student volunteer for a national group called the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. Every April, GLSEN sponsors a Day of Silence, and thousands of high schools and universities across the country take part in this wordless demonstration.
Students Stand Up
"The goal of the Day of Silence is to raise awareness of the type of discrimination and harassment that affects and silences all students, gay and straight alike," explains Josh Lamont, a spokesperson for GLSEN. "Silence is used as a tool to represent the silencing of LGBT people."
Participants in the Day of Silence also organize educational displays and events designed to teach observers the importance of accepting all people for who they are, regardless of their sexual orientation. Many take part in local or regional "Breaking the Silence" rallies, where students come together at the end of the day to celebrate. In the Chicago area Talia's home turf they've dubbed the evening party the "Night of Noise."
Started in 1996 by students at the University of Virginia, the Day of Silence has since grown to include thousands of participants from across the country. Last year it drew nearly 300,000 students from more than 3,000 schools. Organizers predict this year's turnout will be even bigger.
Students, says Lamont, are the key to the event's success. "They're the entire thing. They're the ones working to organize in their local areas and across the nation. This really is a student-led effort." Students who wish to get involved as leaders attend GLSEN's Jump-Start leadership program in Washington, DC. The program includes intensive training in what it takes to run an event like the Day of Silence.
At Stevenson High School, home to nearly 5,000 students, Talia who attended the leadership program herself hopes for a strong showing. "Our goal is 400 people," she says. "I think we can do it." Last year at Stevenson, 60 students remained silent for the entire day, while another 40 non-silent participants wore stickers to demonstration their support. Now, says Talia, the school's Gay-Straight Alliance is bigger than ever, with more than 500 members. So there's a good chance the event will be a huge success.
Words that Hurt
"What we hope people will understand is that it doesn't take violence to silence somebody," says Talia. "When we walk down the hall and hear people say 'that's so gay' or we hear the word 'faggot' being thrown around that, in effect, is silencing. It says, 'You're not OK with us. We think you're weird. We don't want you with us.' We want people to realize that their actions have ramifications and what they do affects how other people feel about themselves. And hopefully by seeing 20, 30, 40, or 100 kids not talking, they'll realize that their words can hurt. And that their words take away somebody else's right to be who they are."
The Day of Silence is bound to achieve its goal. It will raise awareness of an issue critical to LGBT people and their families, friends, and allies. Most importantly, it will get people talking. "If I personally hear about a good conversation that's been had as a result of the Day of Silence," says Lamont, "then we've done what we've set out to do."
To find out how you and your school can get involved in the Day of Silence, check out www.dayofsilence.org.