"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes" -Maggie Kuhn
If someone had told me that during high school I would shun the computer geek flutist I was and go on to be a student activist, particularly one who would be organizing the Day of Silence and Night of Noise, I would not have believed hir.
I was a freshman when I first found out about Wilson High School's GSA. At that time I didn't know that I was queer but for some reason or another the thought of a GSA seemed quite intriguing to me. Within the first month and a half of me attending meetings I knew that I was queer, but at that time I identified as bisexual.
I was a very lucky kid. When I came out to my good friend she was completely and utterly supportive (I had yet to realize she was
a lesbian). About a month after I told my friend, I told my mother. Again, I was lucky in that she was, and is, very supportive.
Soon after I came out to my mom I came across The Day of Silence web site. Unfortunately it was about three or four weeks before The Day of Silence was to happen. I brought the event up to my GSA anyway, and they seemed excited about it. We then went about getting up flyers, making buttons, and making speaking cards. Unfortunately our first year didn't turn out to be the success we had hoped it would. We had only notified teachers a few days in advanced and some of them made students speak in order to participate in class or to give speeches that were previously scheduled. We also had a portion of the student population harassing and taunting us. As if the these mishaps weren't enough, within two days there were parents calling the school because they didn't think it was an appropriate thing to do in a public school.
Fast forward to February of this year. By this time I have realized that I am not bisexual and identify as genderqueer and am attracted to all genders. By this time I also have also started going to the local GLBTQ youth center and have just started attending monthly meetings for youth run by Basic Rights Oregon (an organization that works to obtain GLBTQ rights).
In November of 2002, I met and became friends with one of the student organizers who just happened to live in Portland, Oregon. In December she approached me with the task of helping her create Portland's first Night of Noise to augment The Day of Silence. She had already contacted Basic Rights Oregon and they let us use their space and their program organizer committed her time to helping us with the event.
After two or three meetings of deciding where it would be held (a large central meeting space in the middle of downtown Portland that is surrounded by businesses and shops) and what we would include (speakers, music, tables set up by various organizations from which to distribute information), we found out how much it would cost to run the entire event; $900. That was assuming the people whom we were renting space from didn't have to clean it up after the event. Our main concern then was how we were going to raise that amount money. The first thing we thought of was phone banking and envelope stuffing. Luckily the people at Basic Rights Oregon had a long list of people that had financially supported them in the past and a large list of businesses that were supportive of GLBTQ rights, and they let us make use of both. Once we received this list we were off to the task of actually fundraising.
I can't praise Basic Rights Oregon enough for letting us use their space, people, money, and resources. Once we received the lists they let us use their phones for phone banking and their envelopes for stuffing. They also let us use their non-profit postal stamping machine. By the end of our fundraising journey we raised an amazing $1,400 and to my knowledge Basic Rights Oregon has yet to ask for a penny.
With the entire flurry of Night of Noise it took a reminder from the person who started this the Night of Noise planning to remind me that I had yet to do anything within my own GSA. The next day I registered my high school for The Day of Silence and the proceeded to remind my GSA that it was coming up and that we needed to get organized. We decided that we wanted to do it differently this year. We actually talked to the teachers beforehand and then put a little reminder in their mail boxes at school two days before it took place. We also made sure that we had a list of people we knew who were going to participate so that we could give it to the teachers. Along with all of this we made buttons and speaking cards.
Fortunately, the Day of Silence went much better than last year. We didn't have anyone participating just to get out of working and very few people harassed us. The teachers were also much more receptive because they knew exactly what we were doing and why we were doing it.
Right after school that day I took the bus to where Night of Noise was going to be and waited for everyone to show up (I was early as usual). After about half an hour all the people involved in planning were there and we started setting up our area. When we were all done setting the stage and tables, we started to wonder why no one had shown up yet. We knew that there were flyers all around Portland and we had sent flyers to all of the public schools in the area, but people had yet to arrive. About five minutes later a big mob of people came over and told us that they were here for Night of Noise. Then we knew that this was going to be a successful event.
We did have a few unexpected people show up as well, protesters. There were two protesters that were reciting verses out of the Bible. After about an hour of them moving from place to place trying to get people's attention, they finally realized that there was no point in what they were doing and left.
Who would have ever imagined me, the shy, once geeky, flute player, to ever come out of my shell and make such a statement for GLBTQ youth? One person– the one who e-mailed me that day with the request of my help organizing this amazing event.
Adam Okoye, 16
Wilson High School– Portland, OR