Last Friday, April 16, hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and staff at schools and colleges across the nation held events for the Day of Silence. These events aim to draw attention to the silence faced by those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, as well as to help students and staff make their schools safer for everyone.
On April 21, this year’s Day of Silence was recognized on the floor of the House of Representatives when Rep. Sam Farr of California expressed his support and his pride in cosponsoring H.R. 4530, the Student Non-Discrimination Act. He said:
Every day, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered, as well as those who are perceived as being LGBT, are subjected to harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence. These actions are incredibly harmful to students and they also damage our educational system.
Unitarian Universalist youth and young adults participated in Day of Silence events around the country, and several of them shared their stories afterwards.
Ksenia Varlyguina, a teacher at Everett High school in MA, taught her first period class in silence and debriefed with her students at the end of day. Together, they discussed who is silenced in their school, how, why, and what they can do to change this. Of the day’s purpose, her student Rodrigo said, “I feel we have a long way to go before Day of Silence is really understood. People try to get you to talk and they don’t see the reasoning behind it; for me it’s to stop the discrimination that has been close to me for a chunk of my life.”
Sixteen-year-old Ben Walter, a of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois was inspired by all of the people wearing the rainbow ribbons that his student group handed out. He says, “It reminded me that though there’s a lot of negativity to this cause, there’s also a lot of people that do support it, I just might not be aware of it.”
Margaret Low, a UU seminarian from North Andover, MA, spoke to the students at Haverhill High School. She told them, “each and every person in this room, at this school, and in this community has a story to tell. Whether that story includes being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender … or whether it includes being straight … each of you is here for a reason.”
She went on to tell her own coming out story while honoring all those who must remain silent about their lives and loved ones. Margaret sees her own process of coming out as continual – it happens every time she tells someone about events in her daily life. She added that her partner, who serves in the U.S. military, does not have the same right:
My girlfriend wanted to join me here today to tell her story. She wanted to speak about her experience of coming out to her friends and her family … and she wanted to speak about serving in the Armed Forces under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But she is not here, because the threat to her military career is too great to stand before you and be who she is.
Margaret shared some of her partner’s reflections on life under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:
I sit alone at military functions; therefore regarded as “not quite established” and definitely not as important as other people. I get bumped to the top of the list to do extra things because I’m not married, and don’t have children. …Someone else’s personal life is considered respectable; and mine is considered a crime. Denying who you are to society each day is enough; why must we do so, in order to serve our country … something the majority of people are unwilling to do. We’re not allowed to be proud of everything that we do, and everything that we are, because we are gay.
Margaret’s partner could be sick, injured or even killed during a deployment, and the military would not contact Margaret. This experience is common among LGBT soldiers currently serving in the military and their families. Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act are necessary to break the silence that still surrounds LGBT lives and communities. So is gaining equal access to health care, adoption, social services, civil marriage, and recognition of same-sex couples under comprehensive immigration reform.
A teacher at Haverhill said that Margaret’s story helped the students feel “okay to be themselves” and led them to share their own stories and struggles with their classmates. Those of us who are willing and able to tell our stories and lift up the voices of those who are silenced are obliged to do so until everyone, including all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, is equally protected by the laws of this country. As Representative Farr concluded,
Though many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocates, and their straight allies, were silent last Friday, we in Congress should never be. Our job is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
May it be so.