In thousands of middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country, students will take a vow of silence today.
Among them are about 80 Boardman High School students who will participate in the National Day of Silence, an annual event aimed at raising awareness about issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
“It’s to represent the silence that LGBT-plus people face,” explained Lily Shannon, a BHS senior who is co-president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance club.
The national initiative is led by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), which describes the Day of Silence as an effort to bring “awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools,” according to the organization’s website.
It’s an issue Chiara Jacobson, a BHS senior and GSA secretary, understands personally.
“As a lesbian myself, I often feel like I can’t speak up when people say awful things,” she said.
Jacobson noted, for example, she sometimes feels unable to stand up for herself if she hears classmates talking about her behind her back.
“I’ve started recently trying to speak out. But I think sometimes when you speak out, it makes people not want to talk to you,” she said. “This is who I am as a person, and it’s frustrating when I have to compromise that for the sake of making other people comfortable, when I’m not comfortable.”
GSA members and their adviser described the BHS student body as generally tolerant, with the exceptions you are likely to find many places – especially in a high-school environment where individuals can get caught up in the crowd.
“That’s why I’m really proud of these kids,” said teacher Moris Jadue, the school’s GSA faculty adviser. “To be in a club like GSA is still very brave. This is high school. It’s the age of conformity.”
Jadue noted, however, the rising level of acceptance of LGBTQ students he’s seen during his 10 years at BHS. During that time, the GSA formed and is now more established than ever. This will be the first year the club is featured in the school’s year book, for example.
The Day of Silence begins at the start of the school day and ends when school lets out. Participants then are invited to a “Break the Silence” party, where they will gather to reflect on the day’s experiences. Those who participate are encouraged to remain silent in social settings, but aren’t asked to be silent in class.
The purpose of the day, Shannon said, is simple: to get fellow students to be a little more open-minded.
“I think it’s important to get to a point where you respect each other and are willing to have a conversation about your beliefs,” she said. “I think the most important thing about it is planting the seed.”