The National Day of Silence started in 1996 by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. It’s a day of action in which students across the country take some form of a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.
Across the country the event takes place on college, high school, and middle school campuses. In some cases there are even elementary school participants. On the day students maintain verbal silence either for the entire day or a portion of the day.
During the period of silence, participating students sometimes hand out printed cards explaining the nature of their protest and is sometimes supplemented by additional texts or images.
The focus of the day is to ending bullying and harassment of students, particularly physical violence and verbal threats. While some organizers focus the mission statement of their Day of Silence to ending institutionalized discrimination, others decide to make their message more encompassing.
The Gay-Straight Alliance in Baldwinsville, NY, for example, has made their mission statement for the Day of Silence “To send the message that hate is not tolerated,” which they consider a more personal and less politically focused sentiment.
Most groups, including local ones in the tri county South Florida region, will focus on the day as an opportunity for the participating students to strengthen their own personal awareness of discrimination and increase solidarity with the LGBT community. Some school organizers also create or purchase pins or stickers to put on lockers and t-shirts. Others dress in all black, with rainbow ribbons or gags to emphasize the cause and their presence.
In South Florida the major day of silence event is held each year at the Dr. Michael M. Krop High School in Miami.
“It’s an amazing event. It’s really moving. Regardless of age or sexual orientation, it’s not to be missed,” said Enbar Cohen, assistant executive director of Safe Schools South Florida. “They really make a big effort. Instead of a few students participating they come out with strong numbers. Teachers, faculty, staff, everyone gets involved.”
Safe Schools used to be the local chapter of GLSEN, but decided to start their own group several years ago in order to attract large grants. They still support GLSEN’s mission.
“The Day of Silence is a tool for change. By taking a vow of silence, you're making a powerful statement about the important issue of anti-LGBT bullying. When you organize others to join you that message becomes louder and louder,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard.
Created by then-student Maria Pulzetti the first event was organized by students at the University of Virginia.
"I wanted to do something for BGLAD week that would impact many people at the school and that would be very visible...I knew that if we held panel discussions and events like that, the only people who would come would be the people who already were fairly aware, Pulzetti explained.
GLSEN is the nation's leading education organization working to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. In recent years, the Day of Silence has been reported as the largest one-day student-led grassroots action on LGBT rights in American history.
GLSEN’s Goals for April 11-15
- Spread the word: You've worked for weeks to get the word out about the Day of Silence, so keep it going! Make sure students, teachers and administrators in your school know that the Day of Silence is happening and what to expect from participants. Notifying people early is the key to a successful and effective Day of Silence!
- Be visible: Red is the official DOS color, so if everyone participating wears red you'll be sure to stand out. And don’t forget t-shirts, buttons, stickers, face-paint—these are all ways you can help draw attention to your action.
- Be respectful: The Day of Silence is about ending anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school. To do this, it's important to treat people with respect. There are likely people at your school who will try to challenge your silence, your activities or your beliefs. Treat these people not as they treat you but with the same respect you hope to be treated with. Remember, the Day of Silence is a peaceful demonstration!
- Know your rights: Remember, you DO have the right to remain silent between classes and before/after school. You do NOT have the right to ignore your teachers' requests during instructional time. If a teacher asks for you to speak during class, do it! Please don’t put your education at risk. Review this document, which outlines some of your rights during the Day of Silence