Rising Up for Day of Silence
Content Warning: Gun Violence and Bullying and Harassment
My identity and my peers' identities have been silenced. From book ban efforts to legislation targeting transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) students, there is a noticeable effort to quiet youth voices across the nation. As a first-generation, Latine, queer person, I have had to navigate this discrimination and oppression from a different but universal experience among the queer Latine community. From a very young age, I learned that my obsession with Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, and all things feminine was not the “norm” for my family, so I began to find outlets to express my true, authentic self.
In middle school, I founded Safe Spots, an unofficial club that students participated in during our recess period. Though the club lasted only 20 minutes, I explored parts of my identity and became aware of the issues that perpetuate our society. It was in these spots that I heard my friends’ stories– stories of physical and emotional abuse, drug addiction, homelessness, and gun violence. Their stories and mine empowered me to mobilize change (in any way I could) as an 11-year-old. Additionally, while holding this space for students, a few of us participated in the day of silence despite lack of support. While we protested by staying silent, students laughed at us, calling us slurs and wishing us death. While we protested by staying silent, teachers called on us, hoping that they’d break our silence. And while we protested by staying silent, we spread awareness that LGBTQ+ students face immense amounts of bullying and harassment– that our community is a target. When my friends and I broke the silence after school in the only classroom that affirmed us, we shared what felt, to us, unshared experiences, but as we spoke, we came to find out that our experiences overlapped in some way– in a way that made me and my peers feel visible.
Although coming out was hard, I finally felt free from the fake identity I was stuck in. As a first-generation, Latine, queer person, I sought out opportunities to unsilence my and my peers’ voices. The GSAs we started at our schools generated opportunities for us to find and uplift other queer students. The organizations we joined or started provided us with the autonomy to create change at the local level. The school board meetings we attended allowed us to express our opinions on what is directly impacting us. The days we protested at the capitol when we should have been in school gave us a voice that we thought would never be heard.
However, despite the work my peers and I have been doing, despite the fact that we have shown up, and despite the days we have committed to advocacy and community organization, the reality is that being an LGBTQ+ student in today’s climate feels criminal. My transgender and GNC friends must use bathrooms that they do not feel comfortable with. My friends and I must use libraries that only brave, supportive teachers are willing to have. Our classrooms are becoming political battle zones. When I step on campus, I am no longer worried about turning my homework in; I am worried about my LGBTQ+ friends. When I walk into class, I am not worried about an upcoming test; I am worried about where I will exit in the event of a school shooting. These problems are seemingly unchecked by politicians. What can we do as a community? What can your supportive friends or family do? What can you do as a LGBTQ+-identifying student or ally?
The choice is up to you. You could start a GSA at your school, get involved with GLSEN (or donate to GLSEN), learn about local organizations in your area, or participate in one of GLSEN’s days of action. If you are a student, you can participate in the day of silence. Day of Silence is a national student-led demonstration where students take a vow of silence to protest the harmful effects bullying and harassment LGBTQ+ students face. It is a day to step out while staying in and close with the LGBTQ+ community. Our world is on the edge. What happens next? I do not know. However, I do know that many students (including myself) are ready to show up and rise up for our lives, our future, and our loved ones.
Written by Jaime Lauriano (he/him), National Student Council Member