LGBT awareness and advocacy organization GLSEN initiated the Day of Silence in 1997 as a means of encouraging adolescents to "speak out" against homophobia by removing their own voices from in-school dialogue for the duration of the day. The silence of participants represents the loss of contributions to society from LGBT individuals who have been forced to remain closeted--or worse, harmed due to their orientation or identity. I remember participating in the original 1997 Day of Silence at my high school, along with Laurie's daughter Lisa. Our best friend at the time led the school's Gay-Straight Alliance, which organized participation in the event.
We made our participation known by dressing entirely in black and carrying cards that explained why we were not speaking for the whole school day. For my part, I was surprised by the sheer difficulty of remaining silent for eight hours, while surrounded constantly by other people. I wasn't able to participate in my classes the way that I normally would. I didn't expect to feel as though I were becoming invisible and cut off from everything. Even though I already had several close friends who identified as gay or bisexual, I had very little intuitive understanding of how isolating the experience of "staying silent"--whether about sexuality or in a general sense--can quickly become.
Breaking the social stigma associated with LGBT identity remains an important goal for proponents of equal rights in the United States. While we have witnessed many wonderful signs of increasing openness in our society, such as the implementation of civil union and even full marriage rights for same-sex couples in several states and the increasing willingness of media outlets to depict LGBT individuals in a positive light, we have a long way to go yet before identifying as LGBT does not automatically make one an outsider. The Day of Silence constitutes a great way to create a more positive environment for LGBT students during their teen years, when homophobia can be the most pervasive and damaging.
Participation in the Day of Silence has grown exponentially since the original event in 1997. Next year I'll post a reminder on our forums so that people can register in advance at the GLSEN Day of Silence site--just click the link at the beginning of the entry to get counted in the participation totals for 2009. If you did the Day of Silence this year, share your experiences with us!