It was a rare moment that I and Brian Frost, a sophomore at Lawrence Woodmere Academy, did not see eye-to-eye. We were discussing year-end goals during a weekly Gay-Straight Alliance meeting, and Brian took issue with an upcoming event.
“It focuses too much on the negative aspects. I just don’t feel comfortable portraying the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community as victims,” he said.
Brian was making his case against the National Day of Silence, an event that LWA planned to participate in on April 19. During the day, supporters take on a vow of silence to bring attention to the issue of anti-LGBT bullying in schools. As a member of our school’s GSA, Brian was someone I had presumed would be taking on the vow to demonstrate the silencing effect that bullying could have on youth. I was surprised when, contrary to my assumption, Brian was adamantly opposed to the event. “Gays and lesbians do have a voice. I have a voice,” Brian asserted.
His point was both valid and thought-provoking. With recent strides in legislation supporting equality for all people regardless their sexual orientation, a day that focuses on the oppression facing the LGBT community may seem dated. However, I stand by my belief that the Day of Silence is still very much a valuable platform for awareness that hasn’t fallen to the wayside as a mere gimmick. The issue of bullying in schools is still prevalent, and when other students observe a participant’s silence, especially one as usually vocal as Brian, it draws their attention. Once people notice the silence permeating this one day, perhaps they will become increasingly aware of the silence that is present every day.
The reason is that silence is indeed a presence wherever there are young people who feel the burden of hate or intolerance. The focus of the event is on those who do not have a voice — those whose environments suppress their abilities to speak out, those for whom harassment, discrimination and abuse regularly silence their attempts. This extends beyond LGBT youth but is sadly especially prevalent within this community.
According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment in American schools each year, while nearly two-thirds of LGBT youth report feeling “unsafe” at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Harassed students also had greater tendencies to miss school due to safety concerns and to have lower GPAs. While attending a school with GSA or anti-bullying policies contributes to a more positive experience, less than a quarter of LGBT students reported having the resources to properly combat the issue. The best way to eliminate the problem is to bring about change ourselves.
While its subject matter may be at times grim, Day of Silence is not quite as “negative” as Brian may feel. It celebrates many important things, such as the significance of student demonstrations to further causes, and the use of words — or a lack of words — to combat violence.
In breaking the silence at day’s end, we also demonstrate the importance of discussion and awareness to greater tolerance for all people. The day focuses on what we, as people and communities, can do to make our world a better place.
So I encourage Brian to reconsider his decision, especially as I suspect that, secretly, he simply cannot stay quiet for an entire day.