Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

Not all silencing is as direct as a piece of tape across your mouth. But on April 16, LGBT students and their allies at UC Santa Cruz participated in the 14th annual Day of Silence, an annual event where students nationwide wear black and tape their mouths shut to show support for queer rights and spread awareness of homophobia and harassment.

Hundreds of thousands of students nationwide participated in the event, and UCSC students rose to the occasion as well.

Juba Kalamka, an acclaimed black, gay, poet, and hip-hop artist and bondage/sadomasochism porn actor from Oakland, performed at the open mic night that kicked off the “Night of Noise,” held at Cowell Plaza. Kalamka conveyed his thoughts through poetry, and described the event as a success.

“I just think that lots of times events like these get measured in terms of having people show up,” Kalamka said. “I think what’s much more important for students and for people of the community is the fact that they’re happening, that there’s space for them to happen, and that people feel safe enough to make them happen.”

About 20 to 30 enthusiastic students attended the open mic night, during which several people shared their poetry and personal experiences with the audience. One of those performers was Tom Barden, a student who spoke about the challenges of leading a gay life.

“Especially in terms of advocacy, we have to stand up the hardest to the ones that we love,” Barden said. “That’s always going to be the hardest thing to do.”

Barden was visibly emotional as he described his experiences with homophobia with those closest to him.

“When my grandmother won’t be convinced that I can be safe and sane as a gay man, when my mom can’t be convinced that trans-people have a sane understanding of their gender identity, and when my best friends can always tokenize me … I think that the most important thing is that … we don’t let them dictate the dynamics that we progress in a daily fashion.”

Santa Cruz County Congressman Sam Farr showed his support for those present through a statement read by the emcee during the event.

“I’m proud of the thousands of students on the central coast and across the country who are joining us in this effort to end these deplorable acts of discrimination,” Farr said. “We should all be raising our voices to move towards a day when the Day of Silence is not necessary.”

Lydia Andrews, a third-year Oakes student and main proponent of the Day of Silence who was promoting the event earlier in the week in Quarry Plaza, said the event is important because it shows the public what it feels like to always be silent about your sexuality.

“In the gay community, silence is a very common trend. Everybody has to be quiet about what they are and hide what they are … hide that they’re queer,” Andrews said.

Amanda Rabe, a second-year Stevenson student, also worked at the booth in Quarry Plaza the week before the event, and said it was important to her because of her own sexual identity.

“I feel very privileged to finally feel comfortable with my sexuality,” Rabe said. “It took a long time to get to that point. The Day of Silence is for you to remember the times when you yourself had to hide.”

Assemblyman Bill Monning also sent a representative to the event, Allie Spikler. She communicated Monning’s regret that he himself could not attend and was reponsible for expressing the Assemblyman’s support for the event.

“It’s really cool to be at an event like this, being a trans-person who works for our state government,” Spikler said.

Spikler also brought the news that California has just become the first legislative body in the nation to elect an openly gay member, John Perez, to the leadership role of speaker.

Despite these advancements, Elia Martinez, the student emcee for the Day of Silence, expressed concern over divisions in the gay rights movement.

“I see it as a really divided movement,” Martinez said. “I see on the one hand there’s a very homo-normative, very stereotypical white gay male-led push for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), for organizations that are trying to be very hetero-assimilationist fighting for things like gay marriage, fighting for things like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to be repealed. Those are the things that we are focusing on as opposed to greater issues of societal repression.”

And indeed, the Day of Silence and Night of Noise were focused on the everyday dehumanizing acts of discrimination that affect the gay community.

The division Martinez referred to has a precedent.  Historically there have been schisms within broader civil rights movements between conservative and radical elements, like with the black civil rights movement.

The latter faction of the gay rights movement was in full force during the Night of Noise, especially the colorful Kalamka, who in one of his pieces ironically referred to people “apologizing for the least of us, the unsavory shameless bohemian elements of our kind.”

A local transgender activist, who preferred only to be identified as Lex, summed the national event up while addressing the crowd.

Lex said, “It’s important to recognize that not only are we silenced in a lot of ways, but that there’s a lot of work to be done in building collaboration across communities.”