On April 20, schools around the globe will be a little quieter. The National Day of Silence has grown from its humble one-school beginning in 1996 to students around the world who take the day to be silent, in protest of mistreatment of queer individuals. The day is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which provides educational resources and legal support for students who participate in the day.
“GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey found that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school, and more than 30 percent missed at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety,” a GLSEN press release stated. “Moreover, two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression.”
While students have the right to participate in the Day of Silence before school and during breaks, they do not have the right to remain silent in classes. However, students are advised to speak to teachers and administration beforehand to alert them to their plans and ask for the staff’s cooperation.
“The issue at hand is the bullying, harassment, name-calling and violence that students see and face in our schools daily,” the press release read. “The Day of Silence is an activity created and led by students to educate their peers and bring an end to this harassment.”
The Utah Pride Center will host a series of activities on the weekend after the Day of Silence, including the Youth Empowerment Summit and Queer Prom. Students around Utah will be participating, but there are some activist groups calling for students to protest their silence by walking out of classes. The anti-gay American Family Association, along with other regional and national groups, is asking students to leave school if other students are participating in the silence.
“School administrators err when they allow the classroom to be disrupted and politicized by granting students permission to remain silent throughout an entire day,” the AFA said in a press release. “The Day of Silence requires that teachers either create activities around the silence of some or many, or exempt silent students from any activity that involves speaking. Furthermore, Day of Silence participants have a captive audience, many of whom disagree with, and are made uncomfortable by, the politicization of their classroom.”
Calling the Day of Silence an encroachment on religious freedoms, the AFA is encouraging parents to call schools and demand they not allow students to remain silent during classes.
For more information about the Day of Silence activities in Utah as well as other youth activities on April 20-21, go to utahpridecenter.org.