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National Day of Silence
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/20/12
Last updated on: 04/20/12
 
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On April 20, the National Day of Silence was observed in hundreds of schools across the country to protest the bullying and harassment of glbtq students. Now sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the observance seeks to highlight the need for action to end bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the nation's schools. A highlight of the 2012 observance was President Obama's endorsement of both the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act

The genesis of the Day of Silence was a class project at the University of Virginia in 1996. Assigned to create a non-violent protest event, students devised the Day of Silence to call attention to the situation of glbtq youth who are silent about their sexual orientation because of fear of harassment from classmates and lack of support from instructors and administrators.

The organizers of the original Day of Silence recognized the value of their endeavor and reached out to other colleges across the country: in 1997 the Day of Silence was observed at almost one hundred colleges and universities.

In 2001 GLSEN assumed the task of organizing the Day of Silence nationwide and expanding it to include students at high schools and middle schools. The need for awareness of the problems of glbtq teens is particularly acute: a survey conducted by GLSEN in 2005 revealed that eighty percent of glbtq students had suffered harassment at school and that over thirty percent had absented themselves for at least a day because of fear for their own safety.

Various accommodations are made for the Day of Silence. In some schools, students remain silent all day; in others, they participate in class but maintain silence during lunch hours. Students often carry cards explaining why they are not speaking.

At the end of the school day, some schools hold a "Breaking the Silence" event at which participants and others have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences. Glbtq students can express themselves in a safe environment, and potential allies can ask questions and learn valuable lessons about the terrible harm caused by prejudice, harassment, and bullying.

In 2012, the Day of Silence was observed at the White House by screening Lee Hirsch's film Bully, which documents peer-to-peer bullying in schools across the country.

Soon after the film was shown to an audience of activists, the White House announced that "The President . . . is proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, introduced by Senator [Al] Franken and Congressman [Jared] Polis, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Senator [Bob] Casey and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. These bills will help ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment."

Following are some videos in which students explain the Day of Silence.

Below is a trailer for the documentary Bully.

 
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