Sometimes silence is louder than words.
Today students across the country are refusing to speak, handing out cards at school that read: “My deliberate silence echoes [the] silence which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling, and harassment.”
— girlsplusgirls (@girlsPgirls) April 15, 2016
The idea behind Day of Silence is that anti-LGBT bullying silences LGBT youth and intimidates allies into keeping quiet as well. By highlighting that silence, participants hope to get people talking about the problem.
The day dates back to a 1996 protest at the University of Virginia, but is now officially sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The organization, which advocates for LGBT students and issues in K-12 education, has conducted research showing that nine out of 10 LGBT students have experienced bullying or violence at school.
Each year, according to GLSEN, over 10,000 student groups register to participate. But the loudest silence is found on social media, where LGBT advocates of all ages pledge to stay quiet—even teachers.
Yes, I'll be teaching in silence! pic.twitter.com/NFb1lbMLxw
— Scott Todnem (@ScottAmpersand) April 15, 2016
— Will Cannady (@PocketPride) April 15, 2016
— Michelle Henderson (@hende987) April 15, 2016
Not every teacher or school administrator is supportive of the protest, though. Each year on Day of Silence, some students tweet complaints about teachers who insist they speak, and others who threaten to fail students if they don’t.
The problem is so pervasive that GLSEN’s website has a form students can use to report school resistance, such as not being allowed to wear a Day of Silence T-shirt, being forced to talk, or not being allowed to distribute explanatory cards and materials. Students who fill out the form are put in touch with attorneys at Lambda Legal for advice.
A (very republican) teacher assigned a verbal essay today, and said if we are participating in #DayofSilence we fail.
Guess whose failing?
— charles (@pizie0121) April 17, 2015
I told my teacher I was participating in #DayOfSilence and he said I can't.
— tristyn! (@killuaisbaby) April 16, 2015
MRS FINCH IS SO DUMB MY FRENCH TEACHER I SWEAR WANTED A BOY TO STOP DOING #DayofSilence AND CALLED THE PRESIDENT OF THE GSA CLUB I SWEAR
— mel ⁷ yoongi’s personal ottoman (@iIoveminyoongii) April 15, 2016
While the GLSEN Day of Silence is largely an American phenomenon, students and LGBT advocates participate in other countries as well—sometimes with dire results.
According to the Russian LGBT rights group Out Loud, seven activists were arrested on Friday for participating in a silent protest with tape over their mouths.
Акция "День молчания" в Петербурге, посвящённая проблемам замалчивания дискриминации против ЛГБТ.
7 задержанных. pic.twitter.com/nkY3ihzK7I
— Out Loud (@outloudru) April 15, 2016
В Петербурге начинается День молчания в поддержу ЛГБТ pic.twitter.com/qtNjmVTER9
— Dave Frenkel (@merr1k) April 15, 2016
A student in Severna Park, Maryland, was arrested on Thursday for making threats against the Severna Park High School Gay-Straight Alliance club after the club began handing out Day of Silence materials. According to Maryland’s Capital Gazette, police said the student threatened to shoot anyone who wore a rainbow ribbon to school on Friday.
If violent threats and arrests make you want to scream instead of protesting with silence—well, there’s an LGBT holiday for that, too. Trans Day of Screaming started as a Facebook joke, but it’s quickly becoming a favored annual tradition.