day of silence

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.

-Tony

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15 thoughts on “day of silence

  1. The problem I have with the DOS is that it only talks about homosexuality, even though most kids who are bullied are not bullied for being gay. Certain boundaries should be set as far as bullying or ridicule or whatever regardless of why the kid is being persecuted. Also, I do not think it is appropriate to encourage kids to come out in the high school or middle school environment. Coming out can be a harrowing experience, and the more the number of people who find out about it the worse it can be. Yes it is difficult but the appropriate place for this exploration is the family, not school. The process necessarily requires a moral evaluation of what we are going to do with those feelings. As difficult as this may be for the child, the parents, who are responsible for his/her safety, have a right to be included on this as well. Sexual activity itself is a risk factor for suicide. And without a credible assurance that abstinence will be strongly counseled, I would not want my kid exploring feelings of homosexuality with some school administrator or gay-positive teacher without my knowledge.

    • You are correct that most kids who are bullied are not bullied for being gay. However, if we’re looking at percentages, a much higher percentage of gay people are bullied than straight people. That’s why the SOD is important.

      Also, coming out can be a “harrowing” experience, but it can also be a lovely experience. A one-size-fits-all box simply will not work. Not everyone feels comfortable coming out to his or her family. For me, I felt much safer coming out to my friends first. To say that “the appropriate place for this exploration” is the family assumes that everyone has an idiliic family life. While I wish people could safely come out to their family, for some people, coming out to their family might be the least safe option.

  2. Awesome post. I was at Wheaton on that same day and saw those T-shirts here and there all over campus. I complimented a couple students on wearing them, and overheard a female student at the bookstore explaining it to a fellow student worker. Very impressed to see as many as I did at Wheaton. You describe well the purpose of that day.

  3. I think I agree with your post, but I did have a question: are you defining mistreatment (as in your second-to-last paragraph) as bullying per se, or would “denial of rights to marry” (as some have phrased it) be included? I agree that no one should be mistreated, but some who would say what you’re saying would include the latter in the definition.

    Not looking to start a combox war…just curious. Thanks for your post!

  4. Tony,

    I’m glad the Day of Silence was meaningful to you. It was important to strike a non-political message when it came to designing those t-shirts. Regardless of who you are or where you stand, people need to be heard.

    I find it interesting that you wrote that some are worried about wearing the Day of Silence t-shirt b/c they fear it would align with a pro-gay marriage stance. You also wrote about how administrators are afraid that open dialogue might lead to a pro-gay marriage stance. That fascinates me. Do you think that people are so worried about gay marriage? I would imagine that administrators care more about their students personally affirming gay relationships than the public policy issue of gay marriage. Do you think people tend to conflate the two issues?

    I will be interested to hear your thoughts on gay marriage. Interestingly enough, even my most conservative Wheaton friends are for gay marriage (and I have some rather conservative friends). I tend to think that most student–by the time they graduate–don’t care about gay marriage, though I would love to see Wheaton do a survey on how people’s thinking on gay marriage and gay relationships change over time.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the DoS. It became rather political this year and there were some misunderstandings as to what the purpose was. I hope that, in the future, Wheaton can embrace the DoS as a time to think about the role we all play in silencing LGBTQ individuals.

  5. I’m curious as to how to come by the t-shirts. I was inspired by this post, and I would love for the church in my town to do this. (Oh what a battle that will be.)

    • These particular t-shirts were designed and paid for by OneWheaton. We just came up with our own design and had the t-shirts printed at a local custom t-shirt shop. You can buy official Day of Silence t-shirts on the DoS website, but the nice thing about having them custom made is you can tailor the message to your specific context.

  6. In another school, in Nova Scotia in Grade 9, an amazing thing happened. A boy from poor economic circumstances wore a pink T-shirt to school. He was not trying to make a statement. It was what he had that was clean and available. And as might be expected, a number of other students bullied him for wearing the shirt. This could have been just another statistic if anyone were just keeping score. But two other young men of good character took a stand. Instead of joining in with the crowd, they instead donned pink t-shirts themselves and distributed them to all who would wear them in protest against bullying.

    February 27, 2013, will be Pink Shirt Day as a stand against bullying. It will involve all walks of life, not just Junior High School. Bullying is something that can happen anywhere to anyone. It can happen in schools, in the work place, in the home and over the Internet.

    This is how it should be, and it can be.

    My own boys went to a very good Catholic French Immersion school from Kindergarten to Grade 9. No bullying of any kind was permitted. It did not matter the reason. And in my home, I always taught my children to never bully for any reason, and to never participate in any bullying initiated by others. The school fostered an environment that encouraged all students to treat each other as they themselves would be treated, and even the parents saw and signed off behavioural contracts with their children to ensure a positive learning environment.

    Not long ago, my youngest son noticed all the anti-bullying campaigns that were everywhere. He asked why there was such a big push against bullying. He had never seen it in his school, and not among his friends and not in the home. As far as he knew, this was something that parents taught against and just did not happen outside of TV shows or movies. He could not imagine people actually doing anything to hurt anyone else for any reason. I explained to him that yes bullying really does happen elsewhere, and that there are parents who don’t teach their children that this is wrong, and in some places bullying is not taken as seriously as it should be.

    Fostering respect for one another is key, especially from the lowest grades, but this does not mean forcing tolerance, or stamping out free thinking. It means teaching children and adults to look at all people as they would themselves, and to provide education rather than stereotypes to prevail. To view all as human beings first and foremost. And encourage the Golden Rule. Do unto others and you would have them do unto you.

    One thing that concerns me is the drive to separate bullying against LBGT’s from mainstream bullying which isolates those who have SSA and GID from the rest of the human race. The last thing we need is to create a stronger reason for the narrow minded to hate what they don’t understand. All bullying is wrong. And when all bullying is discouraged, and all people are treated equal, then all will benefit regardless of race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.

  7. Once again, I totally agree with what you’re saying on this post. I used to be skeptical of the Day of Silence in particular (favoring, for example, the Golden Rule Pledge) until I read Disputed Mutability’s post on the subject – https://disputedmutability.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/my-day-of-silence-2009-post-a-year-and-a-month-late/ – which really got me thinking about how we need to just go ahead and support the Day of Silence when lives are at stake. Being too careful to clarify our moral stance just doesn’t help anything and only alienates the people who most need help.

    I hope to see if there’s a way I can get the DoS to happen at Taylor next year. I’m just an alum and don’t live nearby, though, so it may be hard. It would be awesome to see it happen, though.

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