Opinion: Why I Refuse to Stay Silent

Author’s Note: While I understand that the acronym LGBT is not the most accepted, especially within the queer community, I am using it in keeping with AP style, which this publication adheres to.

Every year, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), according to their website, holds a “Day of Silence” in order to “highlight the silencing and erasure of LGBT people at school.” The idea is to encourage people to stay silent for the entirety of the day in order to highlight the silencing of those in the LGBT community. GLSEN even has cards for participants to hand out to explain why they choose to stay silent.

In theory, I want to get behind the idea. It is a movement started by students, implemented at schools by students and for the support and visibility of LGBT students. What doesn’t sound great about that? The thing is, I get really frustrated with the word “silence.”

The LGBT community has been silenced since the beginning of time, and I don’t see how another day is supposed to change that. Students get harassed and bullied for their sexual orientation, and their peers say nothing. According to GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate survey, 73 percent of LGBT students in Wisconsin reported verbal harassment, and only 11 percent of those surveyed had a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that included specific protections due to sexual orientation.

LGBT youth go to school in fear and we support them…by being silent? The majority go to school in fear of verbal harassment and we support them by being silent. So many students go to school and are not protected by their anti-bullying policies, and we stay silent. I honestly think that if we want to do something to protect and support the LGBT community, we should start with lobbying for stricter anti-bullying policies.

To clarify, though, I do think that there is merit in the Day of Silence, particularly for straight allies who are not living with the fear and invalidation that those of the LGBT community experience on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean that I think that a few hours of staying silent once a year automatically means you become a card-carrying member of the Ally Club. Standing up for the LGBT community is not something that you do once and pat yourself on the back for. It takes more than that.

Listen to the LGBT people in your life. Hear their voice. Remind them that they have a voice.

Listen, if you want to be silent, and you have done your research and that’s what you want to do, more power to you. But for those who don’t, we should stand up for ourselves and our peers. We should not sit in silence. We have been silent for far too long. We should be demanding change, not sitting in silence to protest those who have stolen our voices.