Every April, gay youth and their allies choose a day to be silent as a symbol of the oppression and silence that plagues their community. This year, they picked April 26.
I’ve participated in this event for two years in order to support a community I associate strongly with and feel is often discriminated against in today’s society.
This year, I decided to take another vow of silence for the event. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., I kept silent except when participating in class.
My friend Gabriel Rogasner, a freshman double majoring in mathematics and education, was cynical when I told him I was going to try to stay off my instant messenger for the day.
“I hate the Day of Silence,” Rogasner said. “We’re going to speak out for gay rights by not talking to anyone or doing anything constructive. Brilliant.”
His comments made me feel a little less superior about participating in the protest.
The events for the Day of Silence started Tuesday with a rally. I picked up the black T-shirt that would mark me as a participant and a handful of cards for me to give to people who wanted to know why I wouldn’t talk to them.
“Please understand my reasons for not speaking today,” the cards read. “I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies.
“Think about the voices you are not hearing today,” the cards continued. “What are you going to do to end the silence?”
I woke up an hour before the official start of the silence excited about the day. I donned my shirt and got ready for school.
As I walked to my first class, I noticed the same thing I noticed last year – the way I treat people changes during my vow.
Instead of passing strangers on the street with an uncomfortable smile, my lips stretched across my face in a warm welcome. I found myself waving more.
I also noticed the people around me more. I looked at the world around me with more purpose.
Before I reached Cooper Hall, I came across the Wall of Hate the Pride Alliance erected to bring attention to discrimination and the first black-shirted participants of the day. We smiled and waved at each other. I added my mark to the wall and was off to class.
In class, I chose my words more wisely because even though the silence isn’t supposed to extend to the classroom, I understood that every word I spoke was working against my purpose for the day.
After class, I met up with my best friend. She didn’t notice that I was silent until she noticed me smile and wave at another student in a black shirt. She laughed at the fact that she hadn’t noticed my silence as she chattered on.
“That’s fine,” she said. “I can pick up the slack for you and all of my other friends who are silent today.”
My lack of silence became more apparent during our lopsided conversation in which I would try to respond by writing answers on a piece of paper.
Throughout the day, I didn’t notice any animosity toward the silent people. Instead, I saw the discomfort of the people who would normally be happily talking to them and the pride and goodwill of the participants.
I think the Day of Silence works like that. It isn’t a giant protest to get the world’s attention. It works more to show the people around the gay and lesbian community what they miss if their friends and family are silenced.
The day was quiet with the most controversial aspect being the Wall of Hate. To James Geiger, a junior theater major, the wall was the biggest success.
“The Wall of Hate was a phenomenal idea,” Geiger said. “I saw people walking by and writing on it, and at 5 p.m., we tore it down.”
Some students took it as a sign that the wind blew the wall down at nearly the exact moment they began to dismantle it.
Participants from different schools that held Day of Silence events met at Sacred Grounds to break the silence. The owner, Karen Lowman, spoke of how she felt about the day.
“I hope that by being quiet, people will hear, because there is a void,” Lowman said.
As Lowman continued, her voice became choked and her eyes welled with tears.
“Every being has a right to be as long as you’re not hurting anyone else,” Lowman said. “We’re not hurting anyone by being gay. We’re just being.”
It’s the sorrow of my friends, the sorrow that is often hidden behind a steady optimism, which will keep me silent once a year.