Four years ago, we held our first Day of Silence, an annual event where students at schools across the country take a vow of silence in support of LGBT students who are harassed and bullied.
That first Day of Silence was an anxious experiment for our suburban private school. We followed resources offered by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Our diversity club faculty sponsors and student leaders planned a series of announcements, acquired administrative approval and fielded concerned questions from faculty members who didn’t embrace the event and felt it would disrupt their classrooms.
Still, apprehension grew from the unknown.
We weren’t sure how students would react. We worried about what parents might say. We feared there could be incidents during the day. We didn’t know how many students would participate. Each unknown added to our anxiety.
On that day, 15 percent of the student body took the pledge of silence for the entire school day. An additional 15 percent signed up to be allies, a designation we created for students who wanted to pledge support but were not comfortable taking a vow of silence.
Almost a third of the school had joined us; I was elated.
We also planned a “Breaking the Silence” event. We offered a silent countdown to the end of the day and shared our experiences, struggles and challenges encountered during that day. It was a way to embrace a new sense of acceptance and awareness within the community.
Waves of relief rolled over the crowd as we began to talk, laugh and share our stories. Amid the stories of frustration and difficulty, the waves of relief built into a crescendo of empathy and acceptance. One of the final students to speak that afternoon came out to the group as a lesbian, becoming only the second “out” student at the school at that time.
That day mattered.
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