On Friday, April 20th, 2012, I did something I never dreamed I would do: I wore a Day of Silence t-shirt.
The Day of Silence raises awareness about LGBT bullying and harassment. It is an absolute fact that LGBT people get harassed because they are LGBT. Perhaps this is why gay youth are four times more likely to commit suicide. This is serious, and lives are at stake. Everyone needs to realize that the way we interact with LGBT people is a social justice issue.
One of my friends has a close gay friend. This spring, that friend was walking about a mile from his campus when he was suddenly kidnapped, stripped naked, beaten, had a gun waved in his face, and threatened with death. And this was all because he was gay. As tragic, disgusting, and unbelievable as this is, it is true.
But LGBT harassment does not just encompass extreme examples like this. It includes the casual “faggot” dropped in conversation. It includes the jokes about “no homo.” It includes the apprehensiveness towards gay people. It includes the way gay people feel silenced, unable to talk about their experiences because of the fear of how people will respond. It includes the way that I have felt silenced– the frustration of having to lie that I’m “just tired” because I don’t know if someone is safe.
This needs to stop.
Now I know that some people don’t support the Day of Silence. Largely, this is because they are afraid that they’re endorsing something they don’t agree with. Hopefully (hopefully), it isn’t the anti-harassment message but rather the fear of supporting gay marriage or the apprehension that this encourages someone to embrace a life that isn’t best for him. Or maybe it’s just that some people are really confused what to think and just sit it out because of that confusion.
Before participating, I too was concerned that maybe I was supporting something that I didn’t really support. I read up on the event. I talked to people about it. I was still skeptical. I think largely because I had never before taken part in a gay advocacy event, so I was waiting for marriage equality signs to start popping up (at the time I was undecided about my stance on this issue, which I will post about my stance on this in the future). Then I saw the shirts, and my fear dissipated. The whole point of the day just clicked.
Here’s what the shirts said: “Day of Silence” on the front, and then on the back: “LGBT? SSA? Questioning? Ally? I’m here to listen.”
There was absolutely no stance being taken, no message about the morality of anything, no provocative statement. In fact, the shirt was even inclusive of identification by including same-sex attraction.
“I’m here to listen.”
That’s it. That’s the whole point of the Day of Silence. This is the first step to ending bullying, to making people feel valued as human beings, to respect the dignity of individuals. It’s to listen to them.
Four simple words that communicated to people that you’re a safe person, that they can express what they’re experiencing, that they can wrestle through the tough questions of their sexuality with you. I wish that when I was a freshman there had been a Day of Silence — that I would have seen there were people who I could finally divulge the most distressing part of my life to — that the silence that suffocated me would have finally begun to be broken.
I hope that day changed someone’s life.
And now looking back on it, I see no reason not to support the Day of Silence. The Church must realize that regardless of any moral disagreements, creating safe places for people to be heard should be a priority. Not only is it simply the right thing to do, but if gay people (or anyone for that matter) can’t feel safe to be listened to by the Church, then who else is going to listen to them? Who else are they going to turn to? Non-Christians? Do we want non-Christians to be the only resource for LGBT people?
I have sensed hesitation from administrators and church leaders who think that allowing dialogue about homosexuality and making it safe for gay people to be open will ultimately result in gay marriage being okay. This is not the case. In fact, I believe that suppressing and silencing the “gay” conversation and gay individuals actually kindles support for gay marriage. If gay people can’t have full community with a church that isn’t affirming of gay relationships because they must be silent about an aspect of their life, then they will by all means turn to churches that are “affirming” of gay relationships or turn away from the faith completely. And it’s not just gay people that feel this way. Some non-gay Christians do as well because they see their gay brothers and sisters in distress in churches and institutions that silence them. I know of some straight Christians that have almost left the faith because they cannot reconcile the mistreatment of gay people by the Church.
So my admonition to everyone is regardless of your moral stance on gay relationships, work to be a safe person and work to fight against the injustice of how gay people are mistreated. Affirming the dignity of someone is not the same as affirming gay relationships. And that’s why I participated in the Day of Silence.