By Christina Wolfe
Don’t say a single word, for a whole day.
On Friday, students at UC Santa Cruz, middle schools, high schools and college campuses near and far are doing just that. During the national Day of Silence, participating students take a vow of silence to draw attention to the silencing, bullying, and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.
The Day of Silence began in 1996 with students at the University of Virginia, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) became the official organizer of the event in 2001.
This year’s event has a specific focus: Lawrence King, a 15-year-old Oxnard, Californian student who was killed in February by a classmate because of his sexual orientation.
From 12 to 2 p.m. in the Quarry Plaza there will be guest speakers and a table with bandanas, tape, and stencils for making shirts. These materials, program coordinator Tam Welch explained, “are for people who want to make their silence visible.”
At 5 p.m., a rally at the clock tower downtown breaks the day’s silence, and at 9 p.m. Break the Silence Queer Club Night will be held at the Porter I-Lounge.
Third-year Jacob Breslow has participated in the Day of Silence in past years. It was a “very emotional and inspirational day,” he said.
“It is a very visual way to get people involved,” Breslow said. “A lot of times in school, LGBT issues and lives are silenced. In education, when you learn history or about famous people, we don’t talk about queer people who have done amazing things.”
When asked what people should expect when participating for the first time, Breslow said, “People should ask themselves why they are being silent, for who, and what they can continue to do to break the silence.”
Third-year Leigh Pfeffer has participated in the Day of Silence for six years. However, her experiences have not all been pleasant. During her sophomore year of high school, she and a friend walked around with shirts and cards, asking people to join them in the silence.
“I was walking by the gym and someone threw a hamburger at my back and someone else threw a water bottle,” Pfeffer said. “I turned around and asked, ‘What did I do to you?’”
Pfeffer later started a Gay-Straight Alliance at her school, and with more people participating, the situation improved.
“We put [the administrators] through training on how to deal with harassment and they handled it really well,” Pfeffer said.
Bad experiences notwithstanding, Pfeffer believes the Day of Silence is “one of the strongest forms of protest.”
She explained that instead of being boisterous, the demonstration makes spectators think about the voices they are not hearing for the day and why.
“It feels so good to get your voice back,” Pfeffer said. “At the end of the day you realize how much power you have to fight back.”
_See dayofsilence.org for more information._