GLSEN’s Day of Silence has always been a powerful event for me. Since I was 12, I felt as if there was knowledge to spread. My brother has high-functioning Autism and I created a support group for those siblings who needed someone to talk to. From there it expanded to teen violence, racism towards biracial people, like myself, and beyond. I had always wanted to raise awareness of the troubling issues that diverse communities face.
I moved to San Diego from Ventura County in 7th grade and transferred out of public school to be homeschooled afterwards while my mom was going through her breast cancer treatment. During this time, my classmates from Ventura were part of this thing called a Gay-Straight Alliance and participating in something called the Day of Silence. I didn't know anything about the LGBT community except from the occasional poorly-portrayed gay character on TV. All I knew was I had to be a part of this day.
I read the info on the event invite and decided to put it in motion. Only problem? The projected audience was a school, and I wasn't in public school. So I took it to the next level and brought the Day of Silence out to the community.
My mom and I were running errands and started off with the overcrowded post office. At the time, I didn't have the resources that GLSEN provides. Instead, I improvised. I wrote up some information about tragic events that occurred around the nation, including the murder of Matthew Shepard, and explained my reasons for taking a symbolic vow of silence. I would carry this note around with me all day.
At the post office, a woman attempted small talk with me and I took out my note. She tilted her head to the side as she read the note. Then came the gasp, and her hand covered her mouth. She apologized and thanked me. I put my hand on her shoulder and nodded.
The day was filled with shock from passersby and by the end of it, I felt accomplished. I took the Day of Silence beyond school and brought it to the community. And by doing so, I raised awareness of anti-LGBT harassment that takes place every day.
Ari Segla is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Maybe you had a really great Day of Silence experience in high school and you want to keep it up. Maybe you're an educator looking to support your students. Maybe you wish you'd heard of the Day of Silence when you were in school and you're making up for lost time.
Whatever your reasons, there are plenty of ways to honor GLSEN's Day of Silence on April 11, even if you aren't currently a student. Here are our favorite things you can do.
9. Write your Senators and Representatives about the Safe Schools Improvement Act. SSIA, GLSEN's signature legislation, would require all public K-12 schools to enact an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with other categories like race and religion. SSIA currently has more cosponsors than ever before. Contact your local legislators asking them to support the bill so they know just how many people support safe schools.
8. Connect with a local GLSEN chapter to learn how you can support their work on the ground. GLSEN's 38 local chapters carry out GLSEN's mission with schools and communities across the United States. Contact the chapter closest to you and ask how you can help.
7. Donate to GLSEN. We rely on donations from compassionate adults who are committed to making schools safer for students everywhere. Even if you can't participate in the Day of Silence, your donation will help us provide resources to students who can.
6. Change your profile picture on social media. Official Day of Silence graphics are available on our Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and at the Day of Silence website. Choose your favorite graphic and make it your profile picture or cover photo to show others you support the Day of Silence, even if you're unable to participate yourself.
5. Take a Selfie for Silence. Print out a Selfies for Silence sign and fill in your reason for supporting LGBT youth and their allies on the Day of Silence. Snap a photo of yourself holding the sign and share it on Facebook and other social media. If you can, hang up the sign at work, school or anywhere else it might spark conversation about the Day of Silence.
4. Wear an official Day of Silence t-shirt. Whether or not you're silent, wearing Day of Silence gear communicates to students and others that you're committed to safe schools for all students. Buy an official GLSEN Day of Silence shirt in our online store, make your own Day of Silence shirt, or simply wear the official Day of Silence colors -- black and red.
3. Donate an LGBT-themed book to a local library. Silencing occurs in school and local libraries when LGBT-related books are deliberately excluded from the shelves. Find a book that addresses LGBT issues in a way that's suitable for elementary, middle school or high school readers (we have a few suggestions to get you started). Look for a copy at a used bookstore near you, or bear to part with your own beloved copy.
2. Vow to be silent on social media. If your workplace or other responsibilities don't allow you to be silent for the day, post a status update Thursday night explaining that you will refrain from posting on social media all day to show your solidarity through "social silence." It may not have the same effect as being silent for the day at school, but you'll still be taking a vow of silence!
1. Share your story. If you participated in the Day of Silence, joined a Gay-Straight Alliance, or experienced bullying when you were in school, chances are LGBT youth could learn from your story. Write a blog post or editorial or record a short video about your experiences, then share it on social media or with a local newspaper or website. (You're also welcome to send us your blog post for publication!) In addition, if you're in contact with LGBT youth, invite them to have a conversation before or after the Day of Silence about what they've gone through and how it may relate to your own experiences.
Any other ideas? Drop us a line and let us know!
My name is Jake Martinez and I just started as the new Education & Youth Programs Assistant here at GLSEN. It has been a really exciting and eventful week. I’ve already begun to learn so much about this incredible organization and have even started assisting in the preparation for the upcoming annual Day of Silence on April 11th. I’m eager to discover what plans this organization has for me and meet the many people who work to create change in our school communities.
To tell you a little bit about me: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and spent most of my life there. During my early high school years, I was a very shy and quiet student. I rarely spoke out or tried to make friends. I came from a completely different neighborhood and didn’t know any of the kids at my school. For the first couple of years, this was hard. Not only was I new to this school, but I was also struggling with understanding my identity. I knew I was a different a young age, and came to realize that I was gay at the age of 14. I waited a while before telling my parents, both of whom were very supportive. But it was my own internal struggle and desire to be accepted by society and my peers that led to a challenging year of self-discovery. I grew tired of feeling confused and misguided and began to reach out to local organizations in my community to talk to older, more knowledgeable LGBT youth about the issues that I was facing. After beginning to attend this group and seeing the many problems in the community, I wanted to make a difference in any way that I could. I started participating in a GSA in my high school and, in my early college years, began to engage in grassroots organizing to fight for a marriage equality effort in Arizona.
After starting a career in social justice, I began working to protect civil liberties for all as the Special Projects Associate for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties where I educated and trained volunteers on social justice issues, supported the many teams and their work, and also learned more about education equity.
As of just a few days ago, I took part in a cross-country road trip from San Diego to New York to be a part of this team. It was an eye-opening experience and gave me the opportunity to see so many beautiful places in this country. And now I’m here and ready to make a difference in schools – to provide a safe space for all students and develop resources for educators. I look forward to being a part of the movement and making a difference. Even if I can create change for just one person, whether that be a student, an educator or someone who may feel like an outsider – I will take pride in the fact that the world is changing, one step at a time.
Have you ever been scared of someone hating you just because of who you are based on misunderstandings - and one of those people was yourself?
If you answered yes to this question, you have survived those terrifying situations due to a strong personal resolve and a coalition of support in your life. Consequently, you have an obligation to protect the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ* (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) youth in your community and beyond by supplying yourself as a resource to a young person struggling to find and accept themselves in the face of severe oppression.
By my freshman year, I had come out at school to provide a source of help and understanding for my many questioning peers. My lifelong mentorship to LGBTQ* kids officially commenced as I joined my school’s fledgling Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and extended my online research to the jaw-dropping realm of GLSEN. Entering into sophomore year, I had become GSA president and engaged heavily with GLSEN, which empowered me to change the worlds of queer students everywhere around me.
However, my advocacy was thrown into a completely new stream when I was gaily (excuse the pun) approached by the youth group at my Unitarian Universalist church. In that little congregation within a congregation, I was informed by an excitable ally that a 13-year-old boy had bravely shared with the religious education class that he is gay, and they wanted to introduce the two of us so that he could ask any questions and receive general guidance from a kid who also came out at 13.
That boy, BW, is one of the sweetest people I have ever had the privilege to meet. While his immediate family was largely accepting of his sexual orientation, his neighbors were not nearly as kind or open-minded. It turns out that BW has been homeschooled for most of his education, due directly to the fact that he has been harassed permanently in public school regarding his outward gender expression and polite displays of feminine attributes since the early elementary years.
But BW’s bullying at school didn’t stop once he relocated to home. The students with whom he was homeschooled taunted and harassed him extensively for his sexual orientation and constantly evoked a few lines of the Bible to justify their perspective without ever opening their minds to the loving and accepting notions expressed by Jesus himself. His peers and their parents mercilessly treated him with degradation and verbal abuse, going so far as to say that he did not deserve to live.” As a reminder, BW is 13. So are these kids.
Thankfully, when BW reached out, he had a supportive family and a very supportive church community to latch onto (the church holds PFLAG meetings, marriage equality rallies, and is heavily populated by LGBTQ* people). When BW reached out, he had someone willing to care enough to offer their time and experience to a confused young boy. When BW reached out, he needed a lifeline - and he got one. He didn’t need much; barely a few hours of conversation, illumination, and a small donation of my now unnecessary teen queer lit. I have seen him grow so much since I have had the privilege of intervening in his life, blooming into an outgoing, charismatic personality because he is no longer afraid of who he is. I would never trade our friendship.
If I - a high schooler with limited free time - can make the effort to make a positive difference in someone's life, so can you. If you cannot mentor a queer youth, be ready and willing to refer them to someone who is or an organization with resources that can help them survive in a world frequently hostile to LGBTQ* people. Make the difference in someone’s life because someone made the difference in yours.
Liam Arne is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
GLSEN Baltimoreis distributing materials to local GSAs that are participating in Day of Silence. There will also be a DOS march around the Washington Monument in downtown Baltimore followed by a picnic and story sharing as part of an official 'Breaking the Silence.' The focus of the story share will be on Kay Halle, former Co-chair who recently passed.
GLSEN Greater Cincinnati will hold their Prom April12th. This year’s theme is “Night of Noise.” GLSEN Greater Cincinnati Prom includes dancing, DJ, snacks and soda for LGBTQPIA youth and their allies in a safe, supportive space. Saturday, April 12, 2014, 7:00 pm – Midnight. Amberley Ballroom, Mayerson JCC, 8485 Ridge Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45236
GLSEN Greater Kansas City we will be having Breaking the Silence/Night of Noise activities for the first time at the Like Me Lighthouse on April 11. The Rally will be at Mill Creek Park in front of the JC Nichols Fountain. The rally will start about 4:00 and continue to the Breaking the Silence Pizza party.
GLSEN Hudson Valley will be hosting a Breaking the Silence Dance in collaboration with the Kingston High School GSA and the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center on April 11th from 7-10pm. This will be the 4th year we have held the dance. We have on average 30-40 youth participating.
GLSEN Middle Tennessee's Jump-Start Student Leadership Team, in collaboration with community partners, will host a Day of Silence kick off at OutCentral (1709 Church Street, Nashville, TN) on Sunday, April 6th. We invite student leaders from LGBTQ-inclusive youth-led organizations to attend at no cost! The morning event will feature tools that GSAs and individuals can use to commemorate Day of Silence in their own schools. After lunch, students will facilitate a panel of "out" individuals and activists from different walks of life.
GLSEN New York City launched their Day of Silence Fund for GSAs. The fund was open to GSAs seeking financial assistance in support of their Day of Silence organizing. Students or faculty/staff from any school in the 5 boroughs were invited to apply for up to $100 to use towards their efforts. Awarded schools include a new school that supports students who are over age and under credited: Professional Pathways High School. In addition, Mount Olive High School, Midwood High School, Susan E. Wagner High School, East Side Middle School - M114, Abraham Lincoln High School, Plainedge High School and East Brooklyn Community High School all received grants.
GLSEN New York Capital Region has organized the annual Breaking the Silence Rally at the EGG since April of 2002. This event, free of charge to participants, gives our LGBT youth and their allies an opportunity to come together and break their vow of silence as a group. Once the silence is broken, an open mic program encourages everyone to come up on stage and share their experiences. The event takes place Friday, April 11at 4:00pm - 10:00pm at the Empire State Plaza Concourse in Albany.
GLSEN Northern Virginia will hold a Breaking the Silence event at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. They expect 80-100 students and it is a dinner, open mic, and dance!
GLSEN Phoenix is participating in the Phoenix Pride Parade on Saturday April 5 from 9:30am-12. They are inviting people to march with them to show our strength in the cause for safe schools for all students and will be promoting DOS at the event by encouraging them to “take a vow.” Bottled water and buttons provided. GLSEN shirts for sale. They have an official registration for marching with them in the parade
GLSEN Pittsburgh held a series of workshops on March 20th (Westmoreland County) and March 21st (Allegheny County) to help students brainstorm activities in support of Day of Silence. The last workshop made it to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
GLSEN Richmond: So far, seven high schools in Virginia are participating in the 2014 Day of Silence program. They are Appomatox Regional Governor’s School, The Collegiate School, Freeman HS, Louisa HS, Matoaca HS, Powhatan HS, and York High School. GLSEN Richmond is supporting High Schools by providing GLSEN swag for their school organizing.
GLSEN San Diego is awarding 19 of their local GSAs a $75 gift certificate for the GLSEN store so that they can put it towards purchasing DOS materials.
GLSEN Southern Nevada is hosting a Day of Silence Breaking the Silence Rally at the The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada located at 401 S. Maryland Pkwy Las Vegas, NV 89101
GLSEN Tucson will be tabling during opening night of a local high schools performance of The Leramie Project. Appropriately enough, the first performance is on Day of Silence! The chapter plans on having some GSA students there to talk about DOS and will provide resources for interested community members.
GLSEN Washington State is planning a Breaking the Silence Beach Party! The event is a chance for LGBT youth to celebrate their accomplishments, mingle and share stories. It will take place at Alki Beach Shelter - across from Pegasus Pizza.
Maine may be the first state to achieve marriage equality by popular vote, but that is only part of the story. Southern and coastal Maine tends to be more progressive than inland, northern and eastern parts of the state. The statewide marriage equality vote was heavily carried by those more progressive areas, where the state population is concentrated. In other areas the vote was definitely negative, in keeping with the generally conservative and religious populations there. The work that the Downeast Maine chapter of GLSEN does is mostly in that part of the state.
We learned a few years ago that students in a high school in a very rural conservative area were attempting to start a GSA, and were experiencing strong reluctance from the administration. Although other clubs could be started with only the blessing of the administrators, the GSA for some reason required the Board's approval, and it was hard to get the matter on their agenda. Months became two years, but the ninth-grade boy who initiated the idea was persistent.
Over the next year, a newly-formed PFLAG chapter in the area, together with the Downeast and Southern Maine GLSEN chapters, and with some lawyerly help from Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), collaborated to support the students. Students also initiated a social media campaign and gathered hundreds of "likes." Together we persuaded the school administrators that they had no legal right to deny the GSA's formation unless they disbanded all school clubs. We were pleased to learn then from the same administrators that they had been in favor of the GSA from the beginning, despite their having given no indication of that.
Now three years later the GSA is thriving. They have had several school-wide events, are well-known, and even carried a large banner in the school's Homecoming Parade last fall. We have been staying in close touch with them, and occasionally attending their meetings.
To date there has been no contagion to other schools in that part of the state, but our GLSEN chapters are working on it!
--Peter Rees is a member of GLSEN's Downeast Maine chapter.
The Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association is taking place April 3 -7 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you're attending, be sure to check out the exciting work being presented by members of GLSEN's Research team! Here's their presentation schedule:
Hope to see you in Philly, but if you can only be there in spirit, be sure to follow @GLSENResearch for updates!
Why is it important to keep telling the story of Matthew Shepard, a college student from Wyoming who was kidnapped, robbed, beaten, and killed in 1998 simply because he was gay? I would like nothing better than to stop telling his story. I would like nothing better than to live in a world where his story was no longer relevant. A world in which gay bashings no longer happened. A world in which everyone could walk this earth free of fear regardless of sexual orientation and gender expression (not to mention race, religion, body size, ability/disability, etc.). But that is not yet the world in which we live. Our world is still a dangerous place. In our world, too often the word “gay” is used to mean “stupid” (as in “That’s so gay”). In our world, too often the word “fag” is hurled at someone with hatred. And in our world, too often that word is followed by a punch or a kick or a shove down the stairs. Or worse. When will this hatred end?
When someone is reduced to a slur, they become, in the eyes of a tormentor, less than human. They become, in a tormentor’s eyes, someone of no consequence, someone who doesn’t matter, someone—or something—easy to destroy.
And this is why we must keep telling Matthew Shepard’s story. Matt was not a “fag.” Matt was a person. He was a son, a brother, a boyfriend, a classmate, a friend. In the Jewish tradition, which is my tradition, it is said, “Whoever saves a life, saves a whole world.” I believe that the opposite is also true. Whoever destroys a life, destroys a whole world. We will never know all the great things Matthew Shepard would have done had he not been murdered (ironically, he wanted to work for international social justice). We will never know how he would have looked once his braces were removed. We will never know what he would have done upon graduating from the University of Wyoming. We will never know if, later in life, he would have married and raised children. We will never know all the joy and love he would have continued to bring to his family and friends and to those he had yet to meet. When his life was cut short, a whole world was destroyed.
In my tradition there is a concept known as “tikkun olam” which means “repairing the world.” Every person is assigned this task at birth even though it is assumed that our broken world will never be fully repaired. Still, each one of us must contribute to “tikkun olam” in some way. It is also assumed that no individual can do this alone. And that is why I am so excited to be working with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Candlewick Press. Together we can do so much. Together we can reach high school educators and administrators, political activists, LGBT youth, librarians, parents, and readers of teen literature, all of whom can work together to carry on Matthew Shepard’s legacy to make the world a safer place.
In my lifetime, so much has changed. The high school I attended (and where I was teased for being a “lezzy”) now has a Gay-Straight Alliance, which welcomed me with open arms 40 years after I graduated (to read about this very emotional visit, see my essay “You CAN Go Home Again”). I am happily and legally married to the woman of my dreams, something I never dreamed would be possible. I make my living as an out lesbian writer, whose books are read and taught in public schools all around the country. I find all of this nothing short of miraculous.
And yet, so much hasn’t changed. Kids and teens still get teased, beat up, tormented, and even murdered for being gay or for being perceived as being gay. There are many states that still define marriage as being “between one man and one woman.” There are still many people—writers, teachers, celebrities, athletes—who are afraid they will lose their jobs if they come out of the closet.
Help us make the world a safer place. Read Matt’s story and teach it to your classes. Honor him on the Day of Silence, which occurs every year in April (this year it falls on April 11). Read poems about Matthew Shepard in your classroom during National Poetry Month (April). Make your school a safe place for LGBT students. Get involved in your school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and if your school doesn’t have one, help your students start one. Make your curriculum LGBT-inclusive. Plan lessons specifically around LGBT History Month (October) and National Coming Out Day (October 11). Be the person at your school who disrupts inappropriate behavior. So many students have told me that when someone at their school is called “a fag” the adults around them do nothing. Do something. You could save a life, and in doing so, save a whole world.
Visit glsen.org/matthewshepard to download He Continues to Make a Difference: Commemorating the Life of Matthew Shepard and find other resources for creating LGBT-inclusive curriculum.
Lesléa Newman is an author and gay rights activist who has written more than 60 books for readers of all ages. Her children's book, HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES was the first picture book to portray a family of two lesbian mothers and their child in a positive way. Lesléa is also the author of the teen novel-in-verse, OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD which explores the impact of Matthew Shepard's murder in a cycle of 68 poems told from various points of view including the truck he was kidnapped in, the fence to which he was tied, the stars that watched over him, and a deer that kept him company all through the night. OCTOBER MOURNING has won many literary awards including an American Library Association Stonewall Honor, and the Florida Council of Teachers of English Joan F. Kaywell Award. Lesléa has given her presentation, "He Continues to Make a Difference: The Story of Matthew Shepard" all over the country at high schools, colleges, libraries, and conferences, hoping to inspire students to carry on Matthew Shepard's legacy to erase hate and make the world a safer place for all. Visit Lesléa online at www.lesleakids.com.
It is difficult growing up different from everyone else, and being gay in Asian culture is no different. Growing up, there was nothing I wanted more than to fit in, but fitting in meant abandoning my identity.
Around the same time I began to understand my sexuality and come to terms with being gay, I also realized there is simply no room for diversity in a society that supports uniformity. I am an Asian Pacific Islander of Chinese and Filipino descent. And as a gay Asian born and raised in the United States, I found myself in an uncomfortable culture that combines strict Asian traditions, the American lifestyle and the stigma of being gay, all in one inferior reinforcement: I was less than.
I look at myself in the mirror only to be disappointed by my appearance—an introverted, skinny, four-eyed braceface with small eyes and dainty, effeminate features. I did not see the masculine, hypersexual confident male model I saw in the media and internalized, telling me what I thought I should be.
I was put to shame. I felt like a conundrum. I was rejected by my Asian culture for being gay and shunned by LGBT circles for my Asian heritage. The backhanded homophobic comments from my Asian family and the racist compliments from the gay community—including, but not limited to, “You’re hot—for an Asian.”—undermined my confidence and left me feeling isolated and alone.
I tried so hard to fit in this mold, only to be miserable. But as I grew older, it was through my advocacy work in the LGBT movement that I discovered a community that shared the same experiences as my own. Today, I have learned to see my authentic, beautiful self. I discovered that the truth to my identity is not to live a life that fits into the norm, but pushes against it. The flaws I thought I had were never imperfections at all, but rather flawless perfections that defined who I am. I now embrace my odd charm and awkward likeableness because they make me different.
The understanding of who I am, as both gay and Asian, has made me a strong person. The slow realization that I was not a nobody, but a “somebody,” taught me to love myself and to own my individuality. I have become a person who respects all people, regardless of any marginalized characteristic decided by society. Coming to terms with my identity has only fueled my aspiration to end racial discrimination and LGBT inequality, and for that, I will be forever grateful and happy.
Matthew Yeung is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.