Silence is defined as “the absence of any sound or noise; stillness” and we commonly understand it as a negative thing. How often has a discussion ended because someone went silent? Everyone has endured a cold silence in their lifetime and we understand that silence is often a barrier against communication. Why then is April 17th the Day of Silence and how is this an expression of support for those who suffer in silence all year long?
In 1996, Maria Putzetti chose to turn silence into a trigger for communication by organizing the first Day of Silence event at the University of Virginia. Students supporting the LGBT community on campus took a vow of silence for an entire day to bring attention to the struggles of those who could not find a sympathetic ear for their voices. The GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) began sponsoring the event in 2001 and began its’ first “student leadership team” as part of the Day of Silence.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a phrase the public is familiar with, and the stigma associated with homosexuality is still something people struggle with today. The Day of Silence is a day when LGBT and students avoid speaking as a way of initiating conversations about the inequality and plight of those who suffer because of who they are.
On the Day of Silence, students carry a card which reads “True tolerance means that people with differing – even opposing – viewpoints can freely exchange ideas and respectfully listen to each other. It’s time for an honest conversation about homosexuality. There’s freedom to change if you want to. Let’s talk.” The vow of silence that those supporting the Day of Silence take is encouraged to be upheld in every situation, even during class for students. Explain to professors ahead of time that the participation is in support of a national movement and request that any necessary communication be done in writing. This is a movement designed to draw attention to the silence that the LGBT community suffers under, not to be disruptive of necessary activities.
Silence is hard; it takes conscious effort to not speak. When someone is silenced by their lifestyle, when they have to avoid speaking out of fear of harassment or even for fear of their lives, they are being denied the basic right of freedom. A study done in 2009 reported nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students suffered verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school and more than 30% reported missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety. People living in fear simply because they are different from others is something that has to change.
We encourage all students from middle school and up to participate in the Day of Silence as an advocate for those who cannot speak up. Use the Day of Silence to start the conversation of change; spark dialogues about the treatment of others and participate in changing the perception of “different is wrong.” Join those who stand up for the rights of others, not only on the Day of Silence, but every day.