Day of Silence a time for allies to stand together

By Chelsea Fiddyment

This Friday, students across the U.S. will stop talking.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) will hold its 12th annual National Day of Silence, an event which aspires to raise awareness of anti-LGBTQ activity in schools and bring an end to it. Participants are encouraged to remain silent during the day to symbolize the silence forced onto LGBTQ youth by the imminent possibility of bullying and harassment.

After participating in this event for the last two years, I have observed that people who are already active in the realm of LGBTQ issues tend to make up the biggest portion of those who take part in the Day of Silence. What we need, however, is the increased involvement of the allied and straight communities.

This is not meant to diminish the efforts of LGBTQ-identified people who observe the Day of Silence. A strong demonstration of concern by the community forms the crucial foundation of a movement toward awareness and change in our schools. But the importance of straight allies is huge – they extend the reach of the event, and help its effects permeate even deeper into a society still structured around heterosexual privilege.

Allies bridge the gap between the LGTBQ and straight communities, and their participation in the Day of Silence strengthens that link. Personally knowing LGBTQ-identified individuals and being impacted by their silence can generate positive discussion and raise questions in the minds of many well-meaning but uninformed straight people.

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But being confronted with participating straight allies goes a step further. Straight allies demonstrating their support for the LGBTQ community can fight the indifference of people who believe “only gay people care about gay issues” and “this doesn’t directly affect me.” Their actions show the people who maintain their hold on cultural privilege that members of their “privilege group” are willing and able to stand equally against anti-LGBTQ activity in schools and beyond them.

Even from people who consider themselves strong allies, plenty of excuses are made in order to keep from, well, keeping quiet. I can no longer count the times I’ve heard things like “I have to give a presentation today,” “I am just too talkative to be quiet all day,” and “I will forget to stay silent.” How long or short one chooses to remain silent is not the goal of the event. What matters more is when we choose to stop talking.

Instances in which we talk frequently, or in which our opinion is considered important, serve as ideal times to institute a minor vow of silence. The extremity of your quietness depends entirely upon your choice. It is frustrating to continue to hear refusals to participate when, if more people would be quiet for just a brief period, the Day of Silence could have an even greater social impact.

Yes, there are circumstances that even the most dedicated allies cannot understand. Many have not directly experienced derision or violence because of their sexual interest. More will definitely not face the same fate as 15-year-old Lawrence King, to whom this year’s Day of Silence is dedicated. King was shot to death in February by another student because of his orientation and expression of gender.

But this difference in life experience is the reason why allied and straight-identified people should take part in the Day of Silence. It generates and demonstrates a willingness to learn about others’ quality of life. It spreads knowledge to people who might even be fiercely resistant to equality of orientation and gender identity. Most significantly, it decreases the number of people exploiting this particular brand of cultural privilege.

So, when Friday is upon us, here’s my shout-out to straight allies and non-allies alike: Shut up. For 10 minutes, during a 50-minute discussion section or an organizational meeting, or if you feel up to it, the whole day. Turn off your cell phone and exit your instant messaging program, and consider the definite possibility that at least one person you know identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. Choose to temporarily give up your privilege to speak out, so that in the future, others won’t be intimidated into sacrificing theirs. Our actions are a necessary part of that change.

Chelsea is a junior in English and music and … >