Louder Than Words: Students Observe Day of Silence in Support of LGBTQ+ Rights

If silence can indeed speak volumes, it did so recently at Rivers during the annual Day of Silence. For many years, this annual demonstration protesting the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students has taken place on campuses around the country and around the world. Students take a one-day vow of silence to support those who have experienced harassment, bullying, and name-calling because of their gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Finn McCusker ’22, student leader of the campus Gender Sexuality Alliance, explains, “We highlight the silencing going on both at Rivers and in the larger communities we are part of. In telling our personal stories of silencing, we are—bit by bit and story by story—slowly stripping away that silence.”
 
Added Marin Broderick ’22, who observed the silence, “The LGBTQ community in schools can be a very quiet minority…. At Rivers, the Day of Silence is key in bringing the struggles of LGBTQ+ community members to light.”
 
Broderick also noted that the Day of Silence is particularly significant this year. “The rights of LGBTQIA+ students and teachers in schools, especially transgender students, are under great threat. All across the country, states are putting legislation in place that completely undermines the progress made on LGBTQ+ rights. Most people either don’t know about these new laws or don’t care.” The Day of Silence, she added, is a way to make sure those concerns are part of the conversation.
 
Students who chose to participate wore black to let peers and teachers know they would remain silent through the day; others wore blue to signal their support of the action. The entire community was asked in advance to provide examples of instances where they’d felt silenced or witnessed the silencing of others due to sexual orientation or gender identity. The answers were woven together into a moving video shared at a virtual all-school meeting on the Day of Silence. Students read statements from their peers or, in some cases, their own statements, and in aggregate they demonstrated that, while great strides have been made, there is still room for improvement.

“I’ve seen friends told to ‘act less gay,’” reported one. “Every day I have to check myself on not speaking offensively to the dominant culture, even when speaking truthfully,” said another. A third shared, “Many students and some teachers still don’t use my correct pronouns. Though I suspect it is out of ignorance, not malice, it still makes me feel silenced.”
 
Broderick told of her own struggles to speak her truth. She recounted the many times she stayed silent when LGBTQ+ concerns were minimized, mocked, or ignored. “I was silent when I was stereotyped over and over again. I was silent when I was made to feel like an ‘other.’ I was silent because I was afraid. I was silent because I was silenced,” she concluded.
 
At the end of the school day, students and faculty gathered on the quad for a cathartic group scream that literally and figuratively ended the silence. While the Day of Silence helps raise the profile of LGBTQ+ issues on campus and beyond, those involved say it should be seen as a starting point and not an end in itself.

“I think there is a lot more work to be done in our greater communities, and especially here at Rivers, about how people view and receive programming surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights and issues,” says McCusker, adding, “I think it’s not uncommon for folks to brush off the Day of Silence and not engage with it. But those are the people who need it most.”
 
McCusker is hopeful, however, that more success lies ahead. “I think the messaging that this school needs surrounding gender and sexuality really has only just begun, and I’d hope to take this momentum into next year.”
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