By: Samuel Smith
Trigger warning for harassment, bullying, transphobia, and homophobia.
This Friday, April 12, 2019, thousands, if not millions, of students will take a vow of silence for the entire school day to protest harassment and bullying of LGBT+ students. There are participants in universities, high schools and it’s even gaining traction in middle schools. So, what are my feelings on Day of Silence?
On the one hand, I went to high schools that weren’t exactly the most LGBT+ friendly. I participated in my freshman, junior and senior years, but not my sophomore year because that high school was too hostile. The years I did see people participate, seeing not only my LGBT+ peers, but also cis and straight allies participating in Day of Silence gave me a sense of hope that there were allies at my school, that there were people to back us up if someone who hated us just for our existence targeted us.
Then it came to the rest of the year, where my LGBT+ peers and friends were bullied, harassed and even discriminated against due to our gender identities or sexual orientations. I saw the way these “allies” were silent when students were bullied or harassed, or even partook in little agressions, like cracking homophobic or transphobic jokes, not making an effort to get someone’s pronouns right, or straight up trying to police an LGBT+ person’s identity.
But, I think about all the days me and my friends were silent. When we had to be silent at homophobic and transphobic jokes. When we had to hear slurs used casually in conversation, or worse, hurled at us. When we found power in these slurs, only to be shut down by their continued usage. When we were told we couldn’t go in the bathroom we wanted, that we were only allowed in one bathroom, in the office, away from all our classes, and we did so without complaint, because complaint could mean getting harassed even more. When we were told that’s what you should expect, being transgender, and just use the teacher bathroom to avoid conflict. When we were harrassed in the men’s room or women’s room, and we were silent, because we didn’t know what the world had in store for us. When the only transgender girl in school wore a bobby pin and was bullied for it, but stayed silent for fear of worse harassment. When a friend and her girlfriend were silent as a teacher harassed them for holding hands. When the teachers who misgender, deadname and harass us were not spoken to and continued to harass us even after we went up the ladder. When we tried to speak out, and speak up, but were silenced.
I think back to all the stuff the LGBT+ community at my high schools (I went to three high schools) faced. I think about the fact that this doesn’t go away after high school. That jokes at the expense of our identities are still cracked, to our face. That we still can’t always use the bathroom we want because it doesn’t quite feel like a safe space. That we can’t always hold hands in public, because we’re too tired to deal with what’s at best going to be ugly stares. That friends and colleagues have to hide their identity in order to have a place to sleep at night. That some friends and colleagues don’t even have a place to sleep at night. And still, we are silent, because speaking up could mean someone listens, or someone makes it worse, and we can’t afford to risk it.
Think about everyone silenced, and think about ways you can speak up this Friday. If you’re LGBT+, think about ways you can speak up, even if it’s going from silent to a whisper. If you’re a straight or cisgender ally, think about ways you can use your privilege to help the LGBT+ community, especially on campus, and think about how you can speak up when you see or hear harassment or bullying.
When I think about speaking up, I think about my little brother, who’s coming into his own LGBT+ identity (I won’t name his specific identity for privacy concerns and because I frankly don’t know). I think about the bullying he faces at school for being LGBT+. He’s a middle schooler, and yet children his age are cognisant enough of hatred and bias to throw slurs at him. I can’t help but parallel his experiences to my own. As much as I’d love for him to have better experiences, to be treated with warmth and kindness, rather than coldness and rejection, I know it’s a long road ahead for him. But, when I see that my old high school is still doing Day of Silence, when I can truthfully tell him, comparing my middle school, high school and university experiences, that it can and often will get better, that brings me hope. Seeing more and more kids, and younger and younger kids participating in events like Day of Silence and Gay Straight Alliances (or Gender/Sexuality Alliances as my final high school called it), that brings me hope.
We must speak out for those who can’t. If you can’t speak out directly, speak out in your own way. Write about your experiences. Document them. Go to protests and parades. Write anonymous blog posts. Support and uplift your LGBT+ friends and colleagues. Do what you can to speak up against silence and injustice, not just on Day of Silence, but every. Single. Day.