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On Day of Silence student speak out in support of sexual equality | Commentary
Vashon is a pretty progressive place, which makes it a perfect place to celebrate the Day of Silence. The Vashon High School Gay-Straight Alliance celebrates the Day of Silence to educate the community about keeping homophobic comments silent.
So what exactly is the Day of Silence? Every year since 2001, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has sponsored the National Day of Silence. It lets people know that it is hard for members of the LGBTQ community — that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — to be proud of who they are when there is so much hate toward them. This hate is in the form of micro-aggressions, which are covert, subtle and often unintended forms of discrimination. And as a result, members of the LGBTQ community often feel the need to be silent about their sexuality.
On the Day of Silence, many students at Vashon High School will be silent or mostly silent for that day. Whether one is LGBTQ, questioning one’s sexual orientation or an ally, his or her silence will be heard.
There are a few things to know about the Day of Silence. It is on April 20. It is also mostly for youth, as in middle-to-high-school age. The GSA has been celebrating this day for years. It is a tradition. We will be promoting the Day of Silence with a decorated school and a table stocked with Day of Silence stickers, wristbands, lollipops and hopefully a video. All GSA members and some teachers and staff will have T-shirts celebrating the Day of Silence.
At the table, there will be three different kinds of stickers. Some will indicate that the person wearing it will be completely silent throughout the day. This is not for everyone because school is a hard place to spend a day silently, depending on what students and teachers will be doing during class that day. On the other hand, allies who wear this sticker get a lot of respect from their peers and teachers because it is a huge challenge to be completely silent.
Another sticker indicates that the person wearing it will be silent during school except for classes. This would make more sense for most students, especially if their classes require a lot of discussion. The last sticker says that the person wearing it is sympathetic and would like to be silent but is unable to. Loquacious allies should be quick to pick this one up.
What many people don’t know are the facts. Based on the 2009 National School Climate Survey from GLSEN, there were many startling realizations. Of those students who reported feeling unsafe at school because of a personal characteristic, 61.1 percent felt this way because of their sexual orientation. Nearly 40 percent said it was because of their gender expression. This is ridiculous. Nobody should feel unsafe at their own school because of these things, and nobody should feel the need to miss school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression either.
According to the survey, students feeling unsafe because of these things were three or more times more likely to miss classes and four or more times more likely to miss at least one day of school than the rest of the student population. This also lowered the educational aspirations of these students.
I’m now a senior at VHS, and most of the anti-gay bullying I have seen over the course of my high school career has been from middle schoolers and high schoolers. The middle and high school years are one of the hardest times in a person’s life, and bullying or anti-gay remarks never help. But there is support for youth who feel alienated or discriminated against.
According to Islander Sarah Wright, a great thing about the Vashon community is Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS), which sponsors the LGBTQ Youth Project, a youth-adult partnership that supports the GSA, provides field trips and activities and offers counseling services to LGBTQ youth. Wright initiated the LGBTQ project in 2005 with a grant from the Pride Foundation. There are allies everywhere.
Though Vashon is a welcoming place, it is very important to keep it that way and promote this behavior toward equality. The best way to alter your behavior towards the LGBTQ community is to be more educated about what your anti-gay and homophobic remarks can do to people. If you don’t try to understand, then you will never know. And if you decide to change your mind about your behavior towards LGBTQ and questioning youth, no one will think less of you. In fact, you will be celebrated.
Go out and celebrate the Day of Silence on April 20 and be sure to check out GLSEN.org or dayofsilence.org for more information. The LGBTQ Youth Project at Vashon Youth & Family Services will always welcome you.
And again, your silence will be heard.
— Sloane Ralston is a senior at Vashon High School and a member of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.