Day of Silence – the loud silence

Visibility is something we should talk about. In so many areas of social interaction, more light needs to be brought into the darkness. There is a big difference between being silenced and choosing to be silenced. Sometimes we need to be silent so that others can break their silence. The Day of Silence on 22 April wants to make visible. This day of action aims to draw attention to the verbal as well as physical discrimination and bullying of LGBTQIA+ students. Eight out of ten young people experience discrimination because of their gender or sexual identity. At school, which is supposed to be a welcoming place, they most often experience name-calling and insults, closely followed by overemphasis on gender identity or sexual orientation. Frightening figures. The school context in particular should do better. Must do better. School should also be a place of safety, where you can be, develop and feel the way you are.

The Emergence

In 1996, the day was started by Maria Pulzetti and Jessie Gilliam in America. Maria wrote an article on non-violent protest as part of her studies. With the Day of Silence, she initiated a day to draw attention to how discrimination silences the voices of many young people. The GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) supported the idea. On their website, they still offer a lot of inspiration on what can be done against discrimination and for more visibility. A counter-movement quickly formed in the USA, calling for a “Day of Truth”. The conservative group tried to call for a boycott of the “Day of Silence” event because they are against the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. Some youths were punished for participating in the non-violent Day of Silence protest.

The Idea

Day of Silence means a day of complete silence, giving space, showing solidarity, and giving voice to those who belong to a marginalized group. At the end of the day, various actions take place to break the silence together. These either take place at the schools themselves or at the premises of the organizations that support the day. Often there are various lectures and discussions, but also small concerts or readings, poetry slams and film screenings can serve as a finale. The main aim is to present measures for inclusive interaction. But sharing stories and experiences of those affected is also an important component. The exchange helps other people to accept themselves and other existences and ways of life.

Tips for implementing a Silence Day at your School/University:

If you would like to organise the Day of Silence yourself at an institution of your choice or in private, we have listed a few things that can support you or that you should pay attention to:

  • Register yourself!
    This way, the GLSEN organization can see how many people have participated. This is especially important to create political visibility.
  • Communication as the be-all and end-all 
    Ask for a meeting with the head of the school or another administrator to inform them of your plans. If applicable, answer how many people will be attending your institution.
  • Planning
    Before the Day of Silence, organize a meeting where you and the other participants can talk about the day and organize yourselves. This will give you the opportunity to develop an overview and know how many people want to participate in the event.
  • Make it known!
    After consultation with the schools or universities, you can put up posters or distribute flyers to draw attention to the topic.
  • Framework conditions
    Check with your teacher or supervisor. You have the right to remain silent during non-instructional time at school, but not during instructional time if a teacher asks you to speak as part of class participation. To avoid conflicts, you should talk to your teachers before the day of silence and ask if there is a possibility to participate in class and still remain silent.
  • Plan B
    Have a plan in case you are rejected. You may not be allowed to remain silent during class. Try to find a compromise. You may be able to remain silent during selected lessons. Or you can practice the day of silence in the digital space.
  • Use alternatives
    You can hand out speaking cards. You can print them out in the days before to explain to questioners the reason for your silence and to raise awareness about discrimination and bullying. If you don’t have a printer at home and you are allowed to use your mobile phone in class/at the university, you can also save the speech card with the information as the background of your mobile phone.
  • Break the silence
    Break the silence with others. Plan a time and place for participants to gather at the end of the Day of Silence, e.g. in the classroom or somewhere outside. This is where participants will speak for the first time that day and reflect on their experiences.
  • Look after yourself
    Participate in the Day of Silence only as much as you feel comfortable with! Some will be silent all day, others will only do so via social media. Still, others will attend the events in the evening when the silence is broken. The aim of the day is to raise awareness and visibility.

How do I break the silence?

If you would like to organize the events on the Day of Silence yourself, we have put together some ideas here on how you can do this:

  • Make a schedule of who will speak, who will appear, who will break the silence with whom at the same time to create clarity.
  • Invite a guest speaker for a talk, for encouraging words and stories or to answer questions.
  • Host a discussion group on Break the Silence. Listen to others’ stories and find out how LGBTQIA+ people have experienced discrimination.
  • Questions in the discussion could be:
    > Why was it important for you to become active and participate in the Day of Silence?
    > How do LGBTQIA+ students experience discrimination and bullying at this school/university?
    > Are there things at this school/university that makes you feel insecure?
    > What is your vision for an emancipated school environment? What does it look like? Who is there with you? How do you feel?
    > What is different about this vision from the current reality?

In Germany, the Day of Silence is not yet very present. We hope that this silent protest will become more established so that schools become a discrimination-free spaces. If you have any ideas or suggestions on this topic, please write us a comment!