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April 09, 2010


Two things I’ve learned over the years that I’ve worked with LGBT students at the American Civil Liberties Union are that many school administrators and teachers don’t have the slightest clue about what their students’ legal rights are, and that a lot of the ones who do know go right ahead and violate students’ rights anyway because they think they can get away with it.

The only way to be sure that your school will respect and uphold your legal rights is for YOU to educate yourself about what your rights are and hold your school to its responsibility to protect and enforce them.

That’s never more true than during the Day of Silence, an annual event designed to bring attention to the bullying, harassment, and name-calling LGBT students often experience in school. Here are four things you need to know about your rights as you mark Day of Silence this year on Friday, April 16.

1. You DO have a right to participate in Day of Silence and other expressions of your opinion at a public school during non-instructional time: the breaks between classes, before and after the school day, lunchtime, and any other free times during your day. If your principal or a teacher tells you otherwise, you should contact our office or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

2. You do NOT have a right to remain silent during class time if a teacher asks you to speak. If you want to stay quiet during class on Day of Silence, we recommend that you talk with your teachers ahead of time, tell them that you plan to participate in Day of Silence and why it’s important to you, and ask them if it would be okay for you to communicate in class on that day in writing. Most teachers will probably say yes.

3. Your school is NOT required to "sponsor" Day of Silence.
But Day of Silence is rarely a school-sponsored activity to begin with – it’s almost always an activity led by students. So don't be confused - just because your school isn’t officially sponsoring or participating in Day of Silence doesn’t mean that you can’t participate.

4. Students who oppose Day of Silence DO have the right to express their views, too. Like you, they must do so in a civil, peaceful way and they only have a right to do so during non-instructional time. For example, they don’t have a right to skip school on Day of Silence without any consequences, just as you don't have a right to skip school just because you don’t like what they think or say.

If you’re concerned that your school might forbid you from participating in Day of Silence, you might want to print out the ACLU's "Letter to Educators about the Day of Silence" (2-page PDF) and give it to your school administrators. Tell them they should show the letter to the school’s lawyer. The letter explains what schools' responsibilities are regarding Day of Silence.

And for more information on your rights in public schools, check out the ACLU's Youth and Schools Work website.

By Chris Hampton
Public Education Associate
American Civil Liberties Union

April 09, 2010

>We’ve received reports from a number of organizers who have suffered problems after wearing duct tape on their mouths. As a consequence we feel it is important to address this safety issue. While we have never encouraged nor endorsed wearing duct tape for the Day of Silence, we recognize that the symbolism of putting duct tape over the mouth has become quite popular amongst some DOS organizers.

Duct tape uses a very strong, water-resistant adhesive. When students attempt to take off the tape we have heard about a range of problems. In some instances there have been minor issues such as having difficulty removing the tape's glue from skin. In other more severe cases, students have experienced hair removal, rashes and skin irritation, and torn or ripped skin. Because of this risk, we do not recommend using duct tape on your skin during the Day of Silence. Your silence will be powerful without it.

UPDATE: As one organizer has just pointed out, students who wear lip jewelry could be in for a painful breaking the silence.

April 08, 2010

>For the second installment of our Day of Silence Student Voices, we have a video from Louisa, a 9th grader, and Alex, an 11th grader, from Morgantown, West Virginia. Great job!

If you have something to share as well, please email it to us at We're always glad to hear from students across the country about why the Day of Silence is important to them!



April 08, 2010

>Can a teacher tell me to speak during class? What are my rights when I participate in the Day of Silence?

According to Lambda Legal, “Under the Constitution, public schools must respect students’ right to free speech. The right to speak includes the right not to speak, as well as the right to wear buttons or T-shirts expressing support for a cause…”

However, this right to free speech doesn’t extend to classroom time. “If a teacher tells a student to answer a question during class, the student generally doesn’t have a constitutional right to refuse to answer.” We remind participants that students who talk with their teachers ahead of time are more likely to be able to remain silent during class.

Check out this document for more legal questions about the Day of Silence. If you have more questions about your rights during the Day of Silence, go to for more information. During the Day of Silence, if you feel your rights are being denied, you can call:

Lambda Legal Help Desk
212-809-8585 or 866-542-8336.
April 05, 2010

>A few weeks ago, we asked Day of Silence registrants to submit videos and testimonials, explaining why the Day of Silence was important to them and why they chose to participate. We'll be posting our favorite submissions in the days leading up to April 16, and students whose pieces are published will receive a Day of Silence t-shirt.

We're still accepting submissions, which you can send to Please include your mailing address and t-shirt size in the email so we can mail the shirt on time. Videos should be uploaded to YouTube and the link to the video emailed to us. Be sure to get your work in as soon as possible, and don't forget to register for the Day of Silence as well!

The first entry is from Kristin, a junior from Sanford, Maine. Great work, Kristin!

Many teenagers, when faced with a social issue, would say, "This doesn’t apply to me," and move on with their lives. The notion is understandable, really, since most people do this daily on a smaller scale, including me. It’s in human nature that if something doesn’t directly involve us, it’s likely that we will not involve ourselves. When it comes to human rights, however, I feel that everyone should be involved.

The issue of the rights and welfare of LGBT students --and even of LGBT people from all ages and walks of life-- is not a "gay issue" in the same way that domestic violence is not a "women’s issue." It's not a "gay issue" in the same way that genocide in Darfur is not an "African issue." The solution to a problem can only be found by involving all parties, including the victim, the perpetrator, and the bystander. At the heart of the Day of Silence is the desire to end the bullying, harassment, and abuse that is heaped daily upon the shoulders of LGBT students in schools across the country, and this purpose cannot be achieved without the help of all involved.

As a technically bisexual teenager that mostly errs on the straight side, many of the people in my life don’t know about my orientation and wonder why it is that I’m neck-deep in this issue. These are the people that assume that the matter of LGBT rights is a "gay issue." When kids as young as thirteen years old are getting bullied because they’re "not the same as everyone else," and when it's impossible for teenagers to feel safe in their own schools for fear of being beat up for dating others of the same sex, and when kids like Lawrence King get KILLED because of something as simple as human difference—THAT is why it becomes my issue. That is why this is EVERYONE'S issue. The rights of LGBT students are not simply matters of human disagreement, but are matters of life or death, dissent or well-being. We're all in this together and we have a duty as students to protect each other, defend each other, and make sure that everyone feels safe in his or her own school.

The Day of Silence is about showing people the importance of equal rights for everyone. It's about letting people know that harassment and bullying will not be tolerated in our schools. However, this day is also about showing people how important it is that everyone be concerned, because the well-being and lives of our fellow students are in peril. Nothing will ever be changed until the silence is broken.

April 05, 2010

>Week 2 (April 5-9): Ramp It Up!
Day of Silence is almost here! It’s time to pump up the excitement and to make sure everyone is prepared!

  • Notify Faculty: You’ve already connected with supportive teachers; now it’s time to let all staff know. Give each staff member a letter explaining what to expect on the Day of Silence. Include the contact people for the event, including the supportive staff member on your Team. Remember to be open and available to questions and concerns about the day.
  • Participant Meeting: This meeting is for everyone who intends on participating in the Day of Silence. Talk with the group about their expectations, goals, fears and hopes for the event. Staying silent for the Day isn’t easy, so it’s good to allow students to practice how to respond to questions or resistance from students and faculty. Try using the Concentric Circles Activity in Jump-Start Guide #1 (Warning: PDF).
  • Back to the Press: Send your Press Release to local news media AGAIN now that Day of Silence is around the corner.
  • Make new posters: If you put up a new set of fliers and posters around the school it will cause people to take notice a second time.
  • And don’t forget to schedule your LAST Team meeting for next week!

If you have any questions or ideas, or if you want to tell us what you’re planning for your Day of Silence please email us at

And don't forget to join the conversation on the Day of Silence Facebook Page and @DayofSilence on Twitter.

April 01, 2010

>We at GLSEN get a lot of questions about Day of Silence. Each week leading up to DOS we'll post the answer to a common question about organizing and participating in a Day of Silence event.

We don’t have school on the Day of Silence. Does that mean I can’t participate?

Your school district may not have classes on the Day of Silence, but that doesn’t mean you can’t participate. We encourage everyone to organize their Day of Silence events on a day that works best for them. Schedule your DOS activities on another day or week. You can also collaborate with other schools, GSAs and students in your area to hold your DOS on the same day so you can generate local interest.

If you have any other questions or ideas, or if you want to tell us what you’re planning for your Day of Silence please email us at

And don't forget to join the conversation on the Day of Silence Facebook Page and @DayofSilence on Twitter.

March 29, 2010

>Not only is addressing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment the right thing to do, failing to do so can also be very costly for school districts.

In yet another favorable outcome for a student who sued a district for failing to address bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, a gay student from New York has reached a settlement with Mohawk Central School District in federal court.

Jacob is now 15 and says school officials did virtually nothing to stop bullies who picked on him because he acted differently from other boys.

Under the settlement, the district agreed to implement changes to protect students
from harassment and to pay $50,000 to Jacob's family.

Such judicial outcomes have become the norm rather than the exception. GLSEN and The National Center for Lesbian Rights put together an extensive list a few years ago of court cases where the student won or a settlement was reached: Fifteen Expensive Reasons Why Safe Schools Legislation is in Your State's Best Interest.

March 29, 2010

>Order customized T-shirts here.

What's the best part of Day of Silence? Raising awareness about anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools, and encouraging others to take a stand for equality with you.

What's the second best part of Day of Silence? Fighting anti-LGBT discrimination and looking snazzy at the same time, of course!

Students, educators and supporters can order their Day of Silence t-shirts--and if they want to, customize the shirts to feature the name of their school, Gay-Straight Alliance or other student club. But, be sure to order them soon, so they reach you before the Day of Silence on April 16! The last day to order customized shirts is March 31 (this Wednesday).

The t-shirts are produced and sold by our friends at Nightsweats and T-Cells, a design and printing company in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only are they fantastic longtime supporters of the Day of Silence, but they do lots of great work raising awareness about LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS through clothing and other custom-made materials.

So, to recap: if you order Day of Silence t-shirts for you and your peers, you'll help to spread the message about the Day of Silence in your school and community, you'll be supporting an LGBT-friendly and socially aware company, and you'll look (even more) awesome on the Day of Silence. That's a win-win-win situation!

Just in case you missed it, the link to the t-shirt order form is here.

Don't forget--those who register for the Day of Silence online can receive free organizing and promotional materials, such as Day of Silence buttons, wristbands, stickers and message cards. (However, if you're so excited to get these items that you just can't wait, they're all available on the GLSEN online store!)

March 29, 2010

>Week 3 (March 29-April 2): Grow your Support
The more support you have, the more effective your event can be. Continue talking with teachers, students and community members about ways they can support your Day of Silence activities.

  • Educate: There are a lot of ways that your teachers can support the Day of Silence. Print out the Educators Guide and give it to teachers you think would be interested.
  • Find Community Support: It’s good to notify local supportive community groups of your events, especially if you’re holding a rally, training, or social to Break the Silence. Notify and, if applicable, invite community groups. Also, there are 30 local GLSEN Chapters across the country. Click here to find out if one is near you!
  • Cross it Off: It’s possible that there are a few items on your task list that didn’t get completed in the past few weeks. Take some time to make sure that everyone is taking care of their tasks.
  • Show Appreciation: It’s important to let your Team members know that you and others appreciate their work. Take some time during your weekly meeting to let everyone express their appreciation of their fellow teammates.
  • Schedule a Participant Meeting: This is for everyone who intends on participating in Day of Silence. This may be the same group as your Team of organizers, but if not, schedule a second meeting for next week so you can prepare students for DOS.
  • And don’t forget to schedule a Team meeting for next week!

If you have any questions or ideas, or if you want to tell us what you’re planning for your Day of Silence please email us at

And don't forget to join the conversation on the Day of Silence Facebook Page and @DayofSilence on Twitter.