As a sex columnist, I’m sort of expected to cover a broad range of topics within the subject of “sex.” Yet there is one area thus far I haven’t touched on at all – homosexual, bisexual and transgender issues.
My silence on this has been, admittedly, somewhat intentional. Being so straight it hurts, myself, I didn’t feel comfortable dealing with such a personal issue I have no experience with.
Breaking my silence on today has more significance than perhaps any other time I could have chosen. Today is the National Day of Silence, a day in which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, along with their allies, choose to remain mute in protest of the systematic silencing of those with minority sexualities.
In 1996, 18-year-old student Maria Pulzetti conceived the National Day of Silence after she wrote a paper on nonviolent protest and grassroots organization. Beginning at the University of Virginia with 150 students, the movement expanded to over 1,700 middle schools, high schools and colleges in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Participants spend the entire day silent – in classes, at home, at work. As explanation, they will carry around cards or wear T-shirts and stickers printed with the following:
“Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. 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?”
On a college campus in a rather liberal state, it’s hard to imagine that the rights of gays and lesbians are being suppressed or that their concerns are ignored. Moreover, as individuals we don’t always feel like there is anything that we can do, especially if these problems don’t concern us directly.
But censorship of any one, or of any ideology, is something that affects us all. As Americans, most of us are used to feeling that we needn’t fear speaking up. Not only do we expect the right to be heard, but we demand it.
Despite this, we silence or demean people whose ideas aren’t compliant with the perceived norm. According to a survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, four out of five lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students report being harassed sexually, physically or verbally in school.
This harassment doesn’t come just from those random idiots far removed from us; it comes from our friends, people we know, or even ourselves. Most of the time, we don’t even know that we’re being insensitive or that an issue is being ignored at all. We’re simply unaware of it.
The Day of Silence is intended to dispel our ignorance. The students who choose to be silent today are doing so in the hopes that their refusal to speak will make others aware of just how uncomfortable forced silence really is.
The National Day of Silence lasts from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. today. At noon today in the Arbor a few people from the Queer Student Union are going to be handing out flyers with the Day of Silence message printed on it, and pieces of tape over their mouths to represent the vows of silence.
Afterward, as a way of breaking the silence, the day’s participants will congregate in the MultiCultural Center’s meeting room tonight from 5:30 to 7. This will be a chance for the participants to talk about their emotions and other people’s reactions to their silence.
For more information, visit www.dayofsilence.org.
Daily Nexus features editor Sarah Kent’s column appears every Wednesday. E-mail her at with your sex questions, ideas and comments.