Day of Silence 2010

Today is the National Day of Silence. Though other blogs have written about it, too, I wanted to note something that’s bugged me for the past couple of years about the Day. Not the Day itself, I guess, but the way—in my experience—it’s been handled by members of the community supporting it. I don’t know if this is even appropriate, but I just have to write it to stop it from continuing to annoy me. And that is…

It really bothers me when someone says, “I’ll be participating in the Day of Silence, but I’ll be speaking in classes, of course, because I have to…” etc. The whole damn point of the Day of Silence is for people to realize how much they’re missing out on by not hearing other people’s voices (specifically, LGBT people’s voices).

The first year that my high school participated in the Day of Silence (in 2001), I was (supposed to be) the main coordinator. I was working with the GSA president (I was a sophomore and vice president at the time) to bring the Day to fruition. Unfortunately, after we went to the Associated Student Body (ASB, the students’ elected representatives) for support from them and from other groups on campus, ASB basically ran us both over and took over the project with a fervor I’ve never seen before or since from that group. Although everything still went through the president and me, in theory, we were leaders in name only. We were given sheets of paper to sign and told what was going to happen and that was about it for our involvement.

The first change ASB implemented was to make the Day of Silence about more than just LGBT people. On the Day, we were given different color ribbons depending on what group we supported (ie: people who are silenced because of racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, and so on.) The GSA president and I went along with this (even enthusiastically!) because we were warned that the school might not approve a Day of Silence “that’s only for the gays”…

The second—and, I think, more detrimental—change the ASB made was to “allow” for speaking in class “when required” because they couldn’t make the teachers change their curriculum for one day “on such short notice”. What if a teacher called on you to answer a question for the class? the ASB asked us. I’ve never been a teacher of high school students, so I don’t know how difficult it is to change one day’s worth of the curriculum to allow for students standing up for something in which they believe, but that’s beside the point because it seems half-assed to say (as a student, not a teacher) that you’ll participate in the Day and then talk when called upon anyway. Isn’t the whole point of the Day to show how bad for everyone silencing just one person can be? If participants are “allowed” to speak when called upon, they’re not really silent, now are they?

Honestly, though, my high school’s first Day of Silence was better than I expected it to be. I’m not saying it was all bad (as this journal entry may imply), and in subsequent years, after we showed the administration that we weren’t going to blow up a building or something, we were able to focus the Day more on LGBT people.

And I’m not saying that Day of Silence participants should be shunned or something for speaking in class, I just think they should really think about what they’re committing to and why… and truly commit to it, if they want to. Be silent, or don’t. You can still support the Day without being silent, as other bloggers have mentioned. But if you decide to be silent—be silent! Trust me, it makes for a more seriously-taken statement.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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