April 23 marked this year’s Day of Silence. Held every April since 1996, the Day of Silence involves participants taking a vow of silence for the duration of the day, some opting to place tape over their mouths or Xs on their hands, to highlight the systemic silencing of LGBTQ youth.
Significant steps continue to be made in addressing the discrimination and harassment faced by members of the LGBTQ community. From kids cartoons like “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” to box-office hits like “Booksmart,” diverse and queer-inclusive media representation has significantly risen in recent years. Promising legislation echoes this growing public consciousness. The Equality Act, which would protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, was passed by the House in 2019 and will finally be brought to the Senate floor in coming months. The exciting prospect of this legislation’s passage offers a hopeful glimpse into the future.
While it is important to celebrate these victories, it is equally as vital to stay vigilant as the LGBTQ community continues to face the harsh reality of malicious attacks and discriminatory legislation.
This year, state legislatures have proposed a record number of anti-transgender bills. Just this week, protests in Alabama erupted over proposed legislation that would ban the use of puberty blockers or hormones in the treatment of transgender minors. Lawmakers in twenty states have introduced similar bills banning treatments for transgender youth as of March 24. If passed, Alabama would be the second state to impose such legislation following Arkansas whose lawmakers approved an identical ban earlier this month.
Hate crimes targetting the LGBTQ community are also on the rise nationally in 2021. This year has already seen 15 transgender or gender non-conforming individuals fatally shot or killed by other means in the span of only four short months. You can read and remember their names here.
While founded over two decades ago, honoring the Day of Silence this year is clearly as important as ever. The following vignettes were written by LGBTQ-identifying members of the Daily Nexus opinion staff and reflect the silencing they’ve experienced, seen or still witness and live through as members of this community.
“You wouldn’t get it, you’re straight.”
My throat catches. Cheeks burn. Eyes shift away. I have to remember how to breathe normally again. No words leave my lips, but my abrupt silence speaks for itself and it offers a more concise answer than whatever jumbled response I would have come up with.
I say, “No, I’m not,” without saying anything at all.
Silence doesn’t feel new to me because it’s where I’ve lived for a while now. I am, in most other regards, a loud person. I speak loudly and laugh even louder. But I pull this particular silence around me like a blanket. It is a muteness I used to feel guilty about. The expectation of being able to put succinct words to feelings I still didn’t really understand felt heavy and crushing. And yet it was an explanation I thought I owed to others. It was a blanket I didn’t initially know if I could get out from under.
I am still just beginning to understand the hidden power in silence, but I know now that there is true strength in being heard without speaking a word. If this Day of Silence doesn’t feel different than any other day to you, that’s okay. There is power in silence, strength in saying less and bravery in refusing to offer explanations for simple existence. Maybe one day I’ll be able to love as loudly as I laugh, but sometimes silence is enough.
Introduction and Vignette by Opinion Editor Emily Kocis
My coaches told me that my girlfriend was a distraction, as if the reason for all of my missed splits and stagnant race times could be ignorantly reduced to me daydreaming about a girl. As far as I knew, they had never said something similar to their straight athletes.
They preached the importance of physical health and noticed everything, from the way we held our shoulders to the quality of our shoes, yet they never noticed the pain I was experiencing. I felt invisible in front of the adults who saw me every afternoon for four years. How could my coaches not notice that my girlfriend’s parents refused to talk to me or cheer for me at track meets? Why didn’t they care that I was exhausted from trying to protect myself from the ridicule and alienation that I faced daily? If I was “distracted,” they never cared to ask me about it, and they did not possess the tools to support the mental health of their athletes.
The erasure that I experienced from my high school coaches made me realize how detrimental it is when the adults that are supposed to keep you safe and care about your well being are silent. Teachers and coaches must be taught to address the mental health of all of their students, in a way that includes LGBTQ youth, in order to break the cycle of silencing imposed by influential adult figures.
By Haley Dean
As LGBTQ individuals at a Catholic high school, my friends and I were denied, again and again, the right to openly exist. While there were small events that illustrated how our administration denied the existence of LGBTQ teenagers (we were never allowed a Gay-Straight Alliance club despite the fact that neighboring Catholic schools in the ever-so-liberal Los Angeles area had one), it was really the religion classes that drained my spirit and hopes.
In the middle of our sophomore year, one of my friends was forced to participate in a religion class debate about whether or not gay people were valid. During my senior year, my friends and I began looking for excuses to avoid religion class after our instructor openly speculated that most gay people were “faking it” as a rebellious act, even naming specific students who he thought were probably not really gay.
None of my teachers in Catholic school ever explicitly taught us that being gay was “wrong.” But it was the actions of our teachers and peers that gave me an overt sense that my friends and I were not welcome. While I do not expect every single religious person to suddenly become cool with the fluidity of sexuality overnight, I certainly question why one would become a teacher if not to learn from their students as well. We are made all the better when we learn from each other. Our teachers and administrators need to do better when it comes to the LGBTQ community. In turn, this change would set an example for our peers to face us with basic respect and a desire to learn.
Catholic schools certainly have a long way to go, but progress can begin with our teachers and peers simply acknowledging that LGBTQ students have a space to exist within them. You have no idea what a difference it could make.
By Anonymous Opinion Staff Writer
“Is silence not an act of violence too?” I vividly remember the tears that came to my eyes when I heard Blythe Baird’s poem for the first time. In just eight words, Baird perfectly captures the daily experience of marginalized communities struggling to be seen, heard and advocated for in school settings. The Day of Silence promotes awareness of the silence LGBTQ+ students face on high school and college campuses alike when issues of discrimination are met with inaction from administrative leadership. It’s no secret that queer and trans youth are frequent targets of bullying and harassment in schools. These experiences are worsened when teachers, principals, parents and peers refuse to advocate for LGBTQ+ students in the face of such attacks. By remaining silent, queer and trans students are left to defend themselves in hostile environments.
Speaking from personal experience, I can confidently say that silence from teachers and peers doesn’t just cause feelings of isolation or helplessness but places the responsibility to speak up on the shoulders of the very students who are being targeted. When the entire class was laughing at different queer identities, it shouldn’t have been up to me to say something about it. When a teacher showed a violently homophobic and transphobic video in class, it shouldn’t have been my responsibility to call out how triggering it was. When teachers approached me feeling guilty about having not said anything to protect their LGBTQ+ students, it definitely shouldn’t have been my job to soothe them. I remember feeling almost gaslit by my own experiences. If nobody else was reacting, was I just imagining how hurtful it was?
Participating in the Day of Silence draws attention to the complexity of this issue, but it also empowers students to hold schools accountable for their behavior. In 2021, a year with “record-breaking” numbers of anti-trans legislation circulating the country, I hope students everywhere will take up this chance to support LGBTQ+ youth.
By Mikayla Buhbe
I tiptoe around discussions of gender and sexuality with my family, unwilling to piece the hints of my identity together on their behalf. I wonder if my parents think about how many LGBTQ musicians I play on our road trips together. I wonder if, when my brother texts me to talk about J.K. Rowling’s transphobia, he knows how personal the issue is for me. I wonder if my sister looks at the way I dress and accurately places me into the non-hetero, non-cis box where I belong. I change my clothes, I cut my hair, I do everything I can to change my presentation without ever admitting out loud who I want to be. So when I pick out my bedding for my freshman dorm and my mom shoots down my favorite pattern for being “too manly,” I can’t help but feel like it’s my own fault.
I think that college will be an escape, that I’ll find “my people” somewhere in the intro courses and freshman seminars, but the first time I try out my new pronouns, I’m hit with the dreaded “she uses they/them pronouns,” cutting my hopes down to size on my first day as a university student. I do everything I can to make myself seen, I continue to masculinize my presentation, I swipe a “my pronouns are they/them/theirs” pin from a display in C.A.P.S., but I’m still “that girl in my geography class” to too many of my classmates. When you don’t know whether or not someone will respect your identity, it doesn’t matter whether people know who you are. So I resign myself to being simultaneously out and closeted, being loud and proud in some contexts while completely censoring myself in others. Because it is not worth the heartbreak of risking putting yourself out there just to be dismissed outright.
By Anonymous Opinion Staff Writer
“HELLOOOO,” he likes to call out in his own home,
for all the world to rush and attend and see.
Silence is nothing, his presence must be known
so separate and distant our presence will always be.
He demands that she speak with him,
about people he will never know,
about the innocent support she would like to show them, but —
“This is not the right way, it’s a problem for me, it’s gonna make my life harder tomorrow. You cannot go and make that decision, without asking my permission, I have to tell you that you are not going to do it tomorrow. So, it’s not gonna work … why are you crying?”
“Because, I was expressing my —”
“It’s not our, like how do you say, it’s not our cause.”
In the eighth grade, my middle school’s Gay-Straight Alliance honored the “Day of Silence.” I did not participate. Watching my friends who did participate, I was upset — upset because these kids around me voluntarily silenced themselves, able to try on the hardship of others only because they were entirely free of that hardship themselves. I did not participate in this day of trying it on. I did not engage in the dress-up because I was already fully clothed for the occasion. And now my little sister wishes to join her friends on this day of performance. And in response, my father brings his absolutely opposite of silent self to tell her no.
Three calls in 30 seconds demanding that she speak with him.
I can see his fear in this, the insecurity in his actions.
He is never as free as he has made me.
Regardless of identity, we all have to keep silent sometimes. I keep silent to respect my father, to please the adults and to assuage my peers. I have long held silent and do not plan to let go. My father is too loud and desperately frequent. My silence ensures calm, security and success.
By Emilie Risha
The Daily Nexus Opinion Staff hope that their voices are heard after the Day of Silence.