Get ready for some quiet for a cause. National Day of Silence is coming up on April 21, 2017. It’s an annual event dating back decades in which hundreds of thousands of students around the country — and internationally — pledge to remain wordless for a day so they can raise awareness of anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination.
How the Day of Silence Began
The event started in April of 1996, and has been run since 2000 by GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Educators Network. It was the brainchild of student Maria Pulzetti at the University of Virginia, who was tired of events that only preached to the chorus. Instead of organizing panels or discussions, she came up with the idea of a silent protest that couldn’t possibly go unnoticed.
One hundred schools participated the following year. Soon, GLSEN came on board, taking the reigns as an official sponsor as it grew and grew. Over 10,000 people have registered their participation in recent years, with far more taking part under the radar — it’s easy to be a part of the day of silence, since you don’t need any official sanction or organizational permission.
But the Day of Silence hasn’t been without some controversy. An organization dedicated to stopping equal rights for LGBT people known as the Alliance Defense Fund (now called the Alliance Defending Freedom) launched a campaign to counteract the Day of Silence.
They created a campaign they called “Day of Truth,” but their message was anything but truthful. Participants were encouraged to carry cards claiming that queer people can “change” their sexual orientation or gender identity. Obviously, that’s a threatening attack, since “change” efforts are recognized by every major medical organization in the country as harmful snake oil.
Nevertheless, that effort was joined by groups that exist to antagonize LGBT people: the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Liberty Council and more. Many of these groups encouraged their members to pull kids from schools if there would be other students observing the day of silence. A professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University compared the Day of Silence to participation in the Hitler Youth.
And it got worse: In 2010, a group of students wore shirts baring the slogan “Straight Pride” with death threats written on the back.
Religious Groups Are Doing Ongoing Harm
To this day, various religious groups continue to push back against the day of silence, though it’s now been renamed “Day of Dialogue,” and has shifted its focus more towards general proselytizing. An official website for the event still urges people to “overcome same-sex attractions,” a toxic form of rhetoric that will continue to do real harm.
The official site also contains familiar bigoted language about how sexuality should be “reserved for a man-woman marriage relationship,” and criticizes “transgenderism” and “gay marriage,” terms generally used to attack queer people.
It’s just a reminder of why the awareness brought about by the Day of Silence is still so necessary. Anti-gay groups continue to push harmful, hostile rhetoric in school.
Maybe someday the Day of Silence won’t be needed, but until that day comes we’ll have the solidarity of engaging in a powerful protest together.