In the early 2000s, when I was an undergraduate at a small, rural state university, the campus Gay-Straight Alliance could only spread word about Day of Silence by walking copies of an information sheet to every campus office to be placed by hand in every faculty/staff mailbox. The university would not send a campus-wide email. I remember handing the letter to one secretary to ask that she place it in mailboxes in her department. While I stood in her office, she read it, laughed at it, and set it aside.
On the one hand, I left that office that day in silence because I had been silenced in a way all too familiar to members of the LGBT community. Our voices are too easily marginalized, our lives silenced and erased. For a community that has so often been silenced, it may seem counterproductive to use silence as a tool to affect change. On the other hand, I did not need to speak that day. Silence was the correct answer to the ignorance I had witnessed. The ignorance spoke for itself. One needed only stand silent witness to it.
Participating in the yearly Day of Silence is a form of civil disobedience. In a classroom setting, when one is often compelled to speak, to refuse to speak makes active the passive voice of “to be silenced.” Reclaiming silence is to use the very tool that has kept us down and subvert it into a mechanism that forces others to pay attention. By silencing ourselves, we undermine a key form of power used to keep us down. Such subversive acts have long been at the heart of successful civil rights movements. We must keep this in mind as we mark Day of Silence this year.
Dr. Pip Gordon
Assistant Professor and Gay Studies