The Day of Silence is a day each year when high school students who identify as somewhere on the LGBITQIAA spectrum (which i will henceforth refer to as queer) remain silent in class as a silent marker of the discrimination the queer community faces.
I hate it.
As a gay man and someone with an interest in queer theory, culture and politics, the Day of Silence always struck me as… well, dumb. Even the posters for this year quixotically desire queer kids to be silent while asking the question, “What will you do to end the silence?” I don’t in any way mean for this to belittle the efforts of the students nor the courage they will muster on that day to simply not talk when called upon. These students are braver than I certainly was at their age.
But silence is not the answer. As the ACT UP posters from the AIDS crisis put it: Silence = Death. If queer kids and the queer community are to speak up for and fight for their rights, isn’t the appropriate form of action the exact opposite of silence?
Silence is the very action that the straight white male hegemonic society wants from marginalized communities. This is why ACT UP was so evocative and controversial. Or to pick a more contemporaneous example, why #BlackLivesMatter faces stiff criticism even from their own community.
What utility is there is being silent? I would argue that there isn’t one. At least not in the current form. Maybe if these students assembled in the quad areas of schools and held up posters of silent protest with facts and figures about discrimination then the silence would be more powerful. But i can think of nothing less empowering than silence. A more powerful demonstration would be either the example above or to have students and teachers stand up and deliver a list of facts and figures; anecdotes and news stories about the discrimination the queer community faces.
The success of the marriage equality campaign in the United States seems largely to have rested on growing awareness. People were coming out and making themselves known to their families and communities humanized and personalized the issue in a way that radically transformed the political landscape. the same with the burgeoning trans movement. With celebrities like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Caitlyn Jenner and shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent the cultural understanding and acceptance of this community is beginning to form. So why go back on that strategy when students are often stuck in less than friendly environments?
And the students cannot do this heavy lifting alone. Nor should they. It is in the interest of every single educator and staff to reinforce and amplify the voices of the queer members of the campus community in such a way to make a change in the school’s culture. The queer community is part of your city, your school, your state, your nation and your world. We are like you. Unique and worth valuing.
But judge us by our voice and by our actions and not by our silence. Let’s give up the ghost and get rid of the silence once and for all.