Students walked out of their classrooms last March, drawing attention to gun violence and the hundreds of young people killed and injured in their classrooms because of it.
But last Friday was a little different. Students and educators demonstrated on many campuses across the country. Yet, there were no marches. No speeches through bullhorns. In fact, not a single word was spoken.
And that was the point.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are three times more likely to contemplate suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, says a leading advocacy group, The Trevor Project. And they are fives times more likely to actually attempt to take their lives.
There’s nothing easy about middle school and high school, but it gets exponentially harder if you’re different from everyone else. That could open you up to bullying, to harassment, to outright physical assaults.
And that’s what the national Day of Silence is all about.
It was born at the University of Virginia in 1996 in response to a class assignment on non-violent protests, according to the demonstration’s national sponsor, the anti-bullying group GLSEN. By the next year it expanded to more than 100 colleges and universities.
By the 21st century, the Day of Silence was everywhere, where thousands of people — no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity is — speaking out by not speaking out, yet still making their message loud and clear.
And they’re not asking for much. Just inclusion.
According to GLSEN, nearly 4-in-5 LGBTQ students never see positive representations about their community in a school’s curriculum. Nearly 90 percent of them experience verbal harassment, and a third of them have missed school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
School is a place to learn, and a place for students to discover who they are. And yes, society is tough, so school social structures are tough. But it doesn’t have to be. And what better place to start that change than in the very hallways where young people are already primed to learn?
For the rest of us, it once again comes back to listening. Even when what’s being said isn’t expressed in actual words.