On Friday, April 22, hundreds of thousands of students and allies of all ages across the world will participate in one of the largest, annual, student-powered protests for LGBTQ+ visibility and civil rights, known as the Day of Silence.
To participate, students, educators and school community members may take a vow of silence for the entirety of the school or workday; intermittently during lunches, bathroom breaks or walks between classrooms and meetings; or exclusively on social media to raise awareness of the marginalization and silencing effect of LGBTQ+ bullying, harassment, discrimination and other forms of victimization. Others wear tape over their mouths or place Xs on their hands to further call attention to these injustices. Even educators and administrators who cannot remain silent during the school or workday may hold a moment of silence during classes or meetings, respectively.
To respond to questions, participants usually distribute “speaking cards” explaining their deliberate silence as a tool for social change – a deafening and symbolic representation of the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ+ students, educators and school community members. Other peaceful protest activities include wearing Day of Silence shirts or buttons, displaying information about LGBTQ+ discrimination in schools and workplaces, and conducting workshops about addressing LGBTQ+ discrimination and consequent health disparities, particularly those perpetuated by school policies and procedures.
Usually, the silence is broken by an end-of-day, non-violent “Breaking the Silence” rally or event, where participants gather to reclaim their voices, share their stories and promote strategies to transform schools and communities into more inclusiveness spaces for LGBTQ+ people and their allies.
While the Day of Silence is observed by students and allies in all 50 states, most states do not have antibullying, antiharassment and nondiscrimination protections in place for LGBTQ+ youth. To exacerbate the issue, students across the country are currently being directly targeted by legislation that decreases representation, criminalizes supportive adults and limits student access to safety, education and sports. In sum, the advocacy efforts described above are intentionally meant to upend silence as a form of oppression and reclaim it as a visible empowering group action.
For more information, visit the GLSEN Day of Silence website or follow the hashtag #DayOfSilenceChallenge.
Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D., M.P.H., CPH, is an assistant professor in the department of public health at DMU.