LGBTQ students nationwide are participating in the 25th annual Day of Silence on April 24 in an effort to shed light on the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people.
The protest, which focuses primarily on issues facing LGBTQ youth, is being held on a virtual basis due to the coronavirus pandemic — but that’s not stopping students from unifying behind a goal of bringing awareness to some of the most pressing needs facing marginalized LGBTQ communities. Organizers are anticipating a large virtual turnout, with 8,000 school LGBTQ clubs participating across the country.
A virtual rally, “Breaking the Silence,” will be held at 5:30 p.m. via GLSEN’s website.
According to GLSEN, four out of five LGBTQ students do not see positive queer representation in their school curriculum, eight in 10 queer students face anti-LGBTQ harassment, and more than one-third struggle to keep current with school attendance due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
Oliver Pittman, a trans high school student activist who is president of their school’s LGBTQ group at Hebron Academy in Maine, has taken an active role in encouraging their peers to participate in the annual event.
“All the members of my GSA are going to be wearing black during our online classes,” Pittman, who participated in their first Day of Silence in eighth grade, said in a phone interview April 23. “It’s become a really big thing at my school. Every year we have a good chunk of the students who are wearing black, and last year we actually made and sold shirts designed in-house and donated [proceeds] to a cause.”
Pittman continued, “It’s just a really empowering thing to do as a community, to bring our awareness to someone who might not be paying attention all the time. You see the amount of support coming from all angles.”
The annual action is organized by GLSEN, which is a nationwide organization focusing on LGBTQ issues in K-12 education. The group anticipated that the 2020 virtual event would be the largest-ever online gathering.
The 5 p.m. virtual rally will feature celebrity and activist speakers. Gun control activist Emma González, founder of March For Our Lives, and Tan France of “Queer Eye” will join as special guests. Last year’s festivities included stars including Laverne Cox, Ellen DeGeneres, Julia Roberts, and Kerry Washington.
“For 25 years, the Day of Silence has helped thousands of students connect to their community, but with the COVID-19 pandemic isolating many LGBTQ youth from their support networks, this year’s Day of Silence is more important than ever,” GLSEN’s executive director, Eliza Byard, said in a written statement. “It’s time for LGBTQ youth to live free of harassment and discrimination, and to feel empowered to break the silence, today, and every day.”
The event is also doubling up as a get-out-the-vote effort intended to help queer youth get registered to vote. GLSEN is branding this year’s theme as “Shaping Our Future,” and the organization will help students who will be 18 by primary or election day to register to vote. Information about that campaign can be found at GLSEN’s website.
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