This Friday marks the 16th annual Day of Silence, a student-led action aimed at addressing school safety, bullying, and violence, specifically in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Started in 1996 at the University of Virginia, the Day of Silence is now held in thousands of middle schools, high schools, and colleges throughout the world. On this day, students take a vow of silence to stand in solidarity with all those who have been victimized and silenced due to their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression, and to draw awareness to the continued impact of homophobia and transphobia in the lives of all students.
Students can be silenced in many ways. This includes an entire range of situations ranging from the potential for social ostracization to the very real threat of physical harm. At its least severe, it can refer to the casual use of phrases such as “that’s so gay,” creating an environment in which someone does not feel safe coming out or exploring their sexual orientation or gender expression. When we do not feel that we can safely be ourselves without facing ridicule from our peers, that is silencing and it is harmful to both individuals and society. In more extreme cases, far too many students have been permanently silenced by death, either at their own hands or those of their fellow students. Matthew Shepard, Lawrence King, and Tyler Clementi are just a few of the many people whose voices have been lost forever in this way.
On April 20, the Rensselaer Pride Alliance and Greek Spectrum will be bringing the Day of Silence to the RPI campus. Those who are allies of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning students are asked to join the members of these organizations in being silent for the day. Cards explaining the event and an individual’s participation in it will be available from the Pride Alliance all week in the Darrin Communication Center, and members of greek organizations can also get these cards from their Inter-Fraternity Council and Panhellenic Representatives. The cards, which can be used to explain participation to friends or professors, state the following: “Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices.”
On Friday evening, RPA and Greek Spectrum will be breaking our silence at the Spring Charity Drag Show. Held in the West Hall Auditorium at 7:30 pm, the Drag Show will open with a formal silence breaking activity followed by a full length show featuring professional and student drag performers. All proceeds from the show will benefit the Damien Center of Troy, a local organization serving individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS. Tickets will be sold all week in the DCC for $5, and at the door for $10. All members of the Rensselaer community are invited to join us at this event.