The principal peered across the desk at me with clear, cold blue eyes; eyes which seemed to bore into me and say “I can break you.” Her hair, lips, and nails were the same shade of dark maroon, the color of congealed blood. Her skin was pale enough to make the moon jealous. When she walked down the halls her heels clicked against the floor like a clock counting down to apocalypse. I sat with my hands clenched against the chair, trying to maintain my composure. “So,” I peeped, “Have you ever heard of the Day of Silence?”
The principal-queen-dominatrix at my high school had indeed not heard of the Day of Silence and was hesitant to give consent to it. We had talked at great lengths but no clear ground rules had emerged by the end of our conversation. I left her office with two distinct inferences, however. I was not allowed to advertise for the Day of Silence, but I had not been expressly forbidden to organize it. With these pearls of knowledge I set about informing people about the Day of Silence through word of mouth and emails.
I assumed that since I live in a conservative, rural town in the South I would get 5, maybe 6 other participants. Most of whom would probably be people who wanted to do it as a personal favor to me. Fortunately, I was mistaken. People told people who told more people. Copies were made of the speaking cards and friends encouraged one another to be silent. Overall, there were 25 participants at my high school, 88% of whom were straight. The ironic thing about the Day of Silence is that it sparks so much discussion. Throughout the day, issues surrounding LGBT people and the struggles they face were brought up and discussed in what I found to be a surprisingly mature fashion. Those who didn’t speak gesticulated and wrote to communicate. This was probably the first time many students at my school had ever heard such things discussed in a rational, intelligent way. By forcing the issue and shedding light on the mere existence of LGBT people at my school, Day of Silence participants raised awareness and tolerance of what is considered by many in the South to be a taboo subject.
The teachers at my school were also shockingly accepting. When I told them what I planned to do, none of them took more than a second to nod and agree. My conveniently gay librarian had taped the Cher concert the night before, so during my third period library science class I was able to revel in the overt gayness of Cher’s rhinestoned majesty. If your school is without a gay librarian, find one immediately; they’re invaluable. The principal managed to forget that I’d asked permission months in advance, but fortunately no disciplinary action was taken against any of the participants.
That night the GLSEN Winston-Salem Chapter hosted a Breaking the Silence rally at a local church. Students from 5 area high schools and Wake Forest University gathered to share experiences from the day over pizza and beverages. It was interesting and encouraging to hear perspectives from so many different schools. GLSEN Winston-Salem was also able to make itself known and available to a group of students who otherwise might not have known of its existence. They were even able to provide students from one particular school with resources on starting a Gay-Straight Alliance. The rally was an overall triumph.
Often when people ask or deduce that I’m from the South, they’re eager to question me about common Southern stereotypes depicted in pop culture. Do I eat grits? Yes. Do I have a magnolia tree? Yes. Are there KKK where I live? Yes. Do I have an accent? Yes. Thankfully, I can also answer Yes to the question “Were you able to successfully organize the Day of Silence?” Although the situation may, at times, seem bleak for those of us in rural areas, it is at least worth the effort to try. Any effort, no matter how small, is a step forward from the mire of hatred and bigotry of the past.
John Jackson, 18
Davie High School– Advance, NC