The Day of Silence falls on Friday April 19 of this year. It is designed to draw attention to the silence that LGBT individuals feel through bullying and harassment. But does killing silence with silence actually affect change?
The Day of Silence was started in 1996 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The movement is entirely student lead and has spread like wildfire across the nation. It started at the University of Virginia but now middle schools, high schools and colleges nationwide and even in some countries worldwide participate in this movement each April.
Activists have questioned GLSEN on the effectiveness of silence. It calls into question the meaning of activism at its root. Those that participate in the day are not the ones who are actually silenced, for they have already been silenced, but rather those that have the ability to speak on their behalf. So why should those activists join in the silence? Those that have the ability to speak should do so. We should be educating community members on the dangers of bullying and harassment. And silence is definitely not the answer when it comes to spreading knowledge and change.
While the intent of the day is very important, the execution is lacking. GLSEN responded to the criticism of the use of silence with a short video clip:
The real question is never fully answered in the 43-second clip. While voluntary silence is clearly different than coerced silence, it still does not accomplish the intended goal. A silent participant is able to draw attention to the issue but unable to follow through with the education portion. Attention is not enough; we need education and action. If one tries to continue the conversation after the actual day then a lot of the power of the message has been lost. How are we going to get the people who do not want to hear our message to listen? There is strength in numbers. There is an entire day dedicated to helping LGBT youth and it is essential that we utilize this day, especially for those who are less willing to listen.
Silence should not be confused with true activism. Those that wish to affect change should utilize the Day of Silence differently.
Speak. Scream. Shout. Demand for change.
But most importantly, educate those on the importance of compassion and kindness towards fellow human beings. Help to end LGBT bullying and harassment.