U of U Students Observe Day of Silence

Wearing strips of blue electrical tape over their mouths and strips of red cloth emblazoned with such anti-gay slurs as “faggot,” “dyke” and “fudgepacker,” gay, transgender and allied students and a few staff members at the University of Utah gathered on the Olpin Student Union’s southern balcony to commemorate the day of silence.

Founded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and observed annually by students across the country, the day of silence draws attention to the silencing of gay and transgender people in schools and society at large through prejudice, discrimination and violence. Typically, participating students refrain from speaking during the day to draw attention to this silencing. When approached, they frequently hand out cards explaining why they will not talk.

But this silence was broken on April 17 as Ian Vilisoni Paulu, U student and Vice President of Student Relations for the school’s Queer Student Union, took up a bullhorn to speak to the quad below. In his opening remarks, Vilisoni Paulu asked students if they would notice or care if he or another queer student suffered discrimination or violence.

“Maybe I’m that guy who was so quiet and so scared to be myself because nobody would listen and nobody would care,” he said.

Dressed in drag and make up, student Andrew Swallow spoke next, echoing Vilisoni Paulu’s remarks and noting that many do not listen to the problems of gay and transgender students.

“Too many voices fall on deaf ears and the consequences are deadly,” he said.

Other speakers read from black and lesbian poet and activist Audre Lorde’s poem “A Litany for Survival,” invoked the transgender character Angel from the hit Broadway musical Rent, and challenged the casual use of anti-gay slurs such as “faggot” and “cocksucker” on campus.

One student also spoke out against the murder of transgender Colorado teen Angie Zapata while challenging heterosexual male fear of gay men.

“I sashay like a little girl, especially when wearing heels, and I love it,” he said. “Wearing women’s clothing and make up makes me feel pretty—yes, pretty!. I’m more of a woman than you’ll ever get.”

The student then asked the “straight world” if he and his loved ones could ever “be anything other than a gesture in your eyes, a sidekick on TV.”

“I say yes,” he said. “Who am I? I am God’s greatest miracle, and so are you. That’s where we have common ground.”

The students and staff — numbering about 15 in all — cheered and waved noisemakers as a few passers-by looked on—some waving and smiling in support, and others looking puzzled or surprised.

In her concluding remarks, LGBT Resource Center director Kathy Martinez thanked students for participating and challenged the university to become more inclusive and accepting.

Citing comments posted to articles in the school’s newspaper, the Daily Utah Chronicle, criticizing gay and transgender students of “whining” or “wanting special rights” when they ask campus to be a safe space, Martinez said that such students merely wanted equal treatment.

“if there wasn’t homophobia, hate, racism and sexism, we wouldn’t have to have those spaces,” she said.

She then welcomed all listening, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to visit the LGBT Resource Center.

The Day of Silence concluded the school’s annual Ally Week, which focuses on increasing gay and transgender visibility on campus and on training straight faculty, staff and students how to be supportive of their queer colleagues.

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