Breaking the Silence

By guest blogger Erik Eagle, Brownsville Area High School student

This year as the president of the newly formed Brownsville Area High School Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)*, I have had the honor of being the student organizer for the Day of Silence. I managed to bring the Day of Silence to my school despite opposition from the administration, which tried to infringe upon our rights by forbidding us from using the school’s PA system to explain the event and wearing T-shirts with messages about the Day of Silence. If it were not for the help of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, their efforts to block us might have been successful.

Brownsville Area High School students (from left) Daniel Boger Jr., Erik Eagle , Marissa Calvaresi, Katherine Diamond and Kimberly Kennedy. Photo courtesy of John F. Brothers/
Although the school made assurances that they would allow the Day of Silence, when I sought pre-approval for these activities from the administration, all of my requests were denied.  At the same time the school allowed another student organization to do the exact same things for another event. It was only after receiving a letter from the ACLU-PA explaining our rights that the administration allowed us to proceed.

The Day of Silence, recognized on April 20 this year, is a student-led action that began 17 years ago at the University of Virginia. On that day, students take a vow of silence to bring attention to the silence faced by LGBTQ youth who are bullied; the students’ silence is meant to echo that silence. With 90% of LGBTQ students reporting being harassed and 30% of LGBTQ students being physically accosted at school, this is a cause that is intended to make schools a safer place for those students.

I personally have encountered students who have made remarks such as “Why remain silent? Shouldn’t you speak out against the bullying?” or “Being silent never accomplished anything, the Day of Silence is pointless.” I respect these opinions, but at the same time I feel that it is paramount to understand that the Day of Silence is not expected to make immediate change. The point of the Day of Silence is to get people’s attention and to make them think about why the day of silence is necessary. By grabbing people’s attention in such a strange way, it piques their interest to the point that someone who would brush off the subject of anti-LGBTQ bullying will now want to engage you in a conversation about it. I have been told by everyone who participated in our district that they saw this effect almost immediately.

*Note: The GSA itself was only recognized as a student organization and allowed to meet on school grounds after the intervention of the ACLU of PA.