This Friday, April 16, marks the fourteenth annual Day of Silence. Students and allies at schools and colleges across the country will take a vow of silence for all or part of the day in order to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools and communities and ultimately, to help make their schools safer for everyone.  Participating students may hand out “speaking cards” that read:

“Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-calling, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?”

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) will be among the hundreds of thousands of students taking action in this year’s Day of Silence.  Andrew Coate, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth Maine and a senior at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, is participating in his tenth Day of Silence.  Andrew writes:

“By doing something as simple as being silent we can symbolically represent the silence forced on those pushed to the outskirts of society.”

Ben Walter, a 16-year-old Unitarian Universalist from Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, will spend the day at a table outside of his school cafeteria handing out rainbow ribbons and explanations of the Day of Silence to students and teachers.  The members of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance received support and materials from the Illinois Alliance for Safe Schools.

Day of Silence activities in many places will culminate in community-based “Breaking the Silence” events at the end of the day. Together, students break their silence with a powerful call to action to prevent the harm and trauma caused by bullying and harassment.

Margaret Low, a Unitarian Universalist seminarian at Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts, will speak to students at Haverhill High School in Haverhill, MA about breaking her own silence by coming out and the silence that her partner continues to endure as a member of the US Armed Forces.

Students as young as 11-year-old Carl Walker Hoover have been forced to remain silent in the face of harassment and abuse and have even taken their own lives a result of bullying.  Many Day of Silence participants will ask their schools to implement comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies that could help protect all students and make schools safer.  There is currently no federal law to protect students in public schools from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, but a bill to do just that has been introduced in the House of Representatives.  

The Student Non Discrimination Act of 2010, (H.R. 4530) introduced by Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, aims to end discrimination based on actual or perceived.sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.  A companion bill will be introduced shortly in the Senate.

This bill would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from exclusion and discrimination as well as harassment. In Itawamba County, MS, Constance McMillen was banned from her prom because she wanted to attend with her girlfriend. When the school cancelled their prom due to the controversy that arose, a group of parents agreed to sponsor a private event for the students. Constance, along with several other students was sent to a “fake prom” while her classmates partied elsewhere. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would hold public schools accountable to treat all students equally, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And stay tuned to this blog early next week for a report on Day of Silence actions from the UUs listed above and others!
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Orelia Busch

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