Today in school, I was silent.
For the second year in a row, I participated in GLSEN’s Day of Silence. The Day of Silence is a student-led event that happens in schools across the country, bringing awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ+ name-calling, bullying, and harassment. Students (and teachers) from middle school to college are silent for the day in hopes of encouraging those around them to address the problem of anti-LGBTQ behavior. Bullying and harassment has a silencing effect on LGBTQ+ students as well as on those perceived to be LGBTQ+.
So from the time that I walked through the front doors to the time I walked out at the end of the day … I was silent. I had asked all my wonderful sixth grade scientists what they thought in the days approaching, and while some thought it would near impossible for me not to speak, all of them were extremely supportive.
This experience was both humbling and amazing. Silence is both powerful and scary. Being enveloped in it allows you to see so many different things that you didn’t see before. Yet there’s this constant gap in communication that is hard to ignore. It’s like suddenly having a huge canyon right in front of you, which you now have to work extremely hard to cross.
Last year, there was one particular moment that stood out to me (and I told my current students this story in preparation for today). The class immediately after lunch liked to go outside for a few minutes at the start of class. It was an easy request to honor, as they worked really hard on the days we did it. Usually, they would run off and play games (picked up from the day before), with one or two students lingering behind to chat with me and enjoy the sun.
However, since I wasn’t talking that day, they all wandered away. I stood there for a moment and allowed myself to get in the mindset of being an adolescent again. Left alone. Watching everyone else in groups, heads bowed together. Watching other groups throw their heads back and laugh loudly together. Being keenly aware that I was not part of any group, and that I was on my own.
I’ll tell you quite honestly, it felt horrible. Even thinking about it now, I get a sinking feeling in my chest, as if I am being crushed. Just as I was fully embracing how awful it was, one student came over. He explained that while I couldn’t talk, I could take pictures. He proceeded to walk me around the yard, pointing out all the plants that he thought were beautiful and complimenting my photography. It wasn’t easy for him to communicate with me, but he never gave up until we found a way to do it.
Sometimes, all it takes is one person to see that silence. See the loneliness and care enough to find a way to bridge that gap. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. Even better, we can all start to see what causes the silence and start working together to end the negative effects of all bullying, specifically that directed towards out LGBTQ+ youth. But whether you are one person trying to help on your own or an entire community working towards acceptance, I thank you. It really does make a difference.