Purple duct tape was a symbol of the wordless protest on Wednesday, April 18. Students taped their mouths shut and vowed not to speak, commemorating the Day of Silence. The silent stood out among a crowd of ordinary students, commanding the attention of students walking in the halls. Though they refrained from speaking, the students’ message was seen and heard throughout the halls of Stuyvesant.
The Day of Silence, organized by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLiSTEN), is an annual day of action protesting anti-gay bullying and harassment. The event began as a school wide event in 1996 by a group of students at the University of Virginia. Since its creation, it has been celebrated nationwide each year by colleges and high school. This year, students went silent in more than 9,000 schools in more than 70 countries. Participating students vow to remain silent for the entire day to represent the silencing of LGBT individuals and their supporters. Participants will either draw a little black “x” or wear tape over their mouths.
“It’s a student-run event but the point of it is to raise awareness,” said Emma Lesser, junior and co-president of GLASS, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Spectrum. “This is what it’s like when you can’t communicate with the world; this is what it’s like when your voice cannot be heard, for just one day
Though the Day of Silence is officially on April 20, the Stuyvesant community celebrated it on April 18. Upon swiping in to school, students saw participants of the Day of Silence distributing pamphlets explaining the cause on the second floor. The Day of Silence was entirely run by GLASS, but anybody was welcome to participate. One only had to walk up and receive the tape to be a part of the protest. .
While it is a protest against LGBT bullying, the Day of Silence is not intended to demean those who bully LGBT youth. Rather, it is to show those who have been bullied that they are not alone. It is meant to help schools have a safer, more accepting environment in which everyone is respected, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
Participants in the Day of Silence were enthusiastic to bring attention to the discrimination that the LGBT community has to face. “It’s a good way to help LGBT youth because it brings attention to what they have to go through every day,” junior and participant Jamie Sarmiento said. Lesser, who is a firm advocate for humans rights, agrees. “Love is love. If nobody’s getting hurt, it’s nobody’s business to step in,” Lesser said. “It’s a basic human right to be allowed to have feelings. You can’t pick or change how you feel. It’s just how you are,” she said.
Lesser sees this year’s Day of Silence as a success, noting the impact that it has made the Stuyvesant community, both students and teachers alike. She estimates that there were at minimum 50 non-vocal supporters and around 400 vocal supporters. “I think it was incredibly successful. We raised a lot of awareness; a lot of people have come up to me and my members and said how meaningful it was to them or how they thought it made them feel more accepted,” Lesser said. “Teachers have come up to us and said how great they thought the idea was. We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about it.”
Though the Day of Silence certainly caught people’s attention, Sarmiento feels that it could have been executed better. “I wouldn’t say that it’s very successful because not a lot of people knew about the Day of Silence,” Sarmiento said. “It was poorly planned in my opinion and a lot of teachers didn’t even know that there was a Day of Silence. There wasn’t prior word on the announcements or anything.”
In addition, protests against harassment of LGBT individuals by abstaining from speech had the potential to create conflicts with teachers and their classes. The right to demonstrate was reserved to when a student was outside of the classroom. Most teachers allowed students to observe the Day of Silence, but others did not feel that they had the right to refuse to speak if called on.
On the whole, most students did not encounter much difficulty participating. “I had one teacher who wasn’t thrilled about the whole idea of a Day of Silence, but all of my teachers let me observe. Nobody gave me a lot of issues,” Lesser said. “I warned them all ahead of time and I’d given speeches in a few of my classes telling people about the Day of Silence. So I felt like it was respected by all my teachers.” Sarmiento also did not have much difficulty, presenting her teachers with a Day of Silence pamphlet detailing her participation in the event.
The Day of Silence is just one of many events catered towards helping the LGBT community. It is part of a series of events called the Days of Action that deal with LGBT and non-LGBT issues. Ally Week, an event part of the series, is held in October and is a student-led campaign to identify, support and celebrate allies to LGBT youth. SPARK at Stuyvesant had its annual Respectful for All week in February, with LGBT issues as one of its topics. On the last Wednesday of each month, an event called The Gathering is held. Managed by the organization Live Out Loud, The Gathering is a meet up of LGBT youth from Gay-Straight Alliances throughout the city to talk and have fun. Stuyvesant’s GLASS sends two to five representatives to The Gathering each month.
Anyone can join GLASS or participate in events that help the LGBT community, regardless of sexual orientation. “We want to let people know that it’s okay to be straight, to be a part of a GSA club,” SPARK coordinator Angel Colon said. “We want to get rid of the stigmas.”