When I look back on my years spent at Mountain Ridge Middle School and Rampart High School, I can't help but remember the good times I had at sporting events with seemingly all-consuming rivalries, school dances spent awkwardly in rental tuxedos, theater performances where I watched my friends up on stage, and so much more. But lately, a darkening cloud has started to hang around Colorado Springs schools, and it seems that hardly a week goes by without the evening news telling me about another young person who has completed suicide right here in the city I call home.
School officials, the Colorado Springs City Council and other community leaders have remained overwhelmingly silent on the issue, but it's hard to ignore the impact that's being made on our community by bullying. Though the increasingly hostile national dialogue around LGBTQ people and other issues like the rise of cyberbullying have created new challenges for open LGBTQ people in America's schools, LGBTQ youth are no strangers to joining in solidarity in the face of prejudice.
First organized at the University of Virginia in 1996, the Day of Silence was originally led by Maria Pulzetti (a former University of Virginia student who now works as a federal community defender), who invited LGBTQ students to band together in silence to draw attention to the ways in which LGBTQ students and the issues they face are ignored by their schools and communities. The event went national the following year, and soon got picked up by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN), which now reports that more than 10,000 people across the United States participate each year.
While some LGBTQ advocates believe that the Day of Silence is not as effective as something like a day of noise might be, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student and community activist Jazmin Muñoz (also a friend of mine) believes the Day of Silence is exactly what's needed right now in Colorado Springs. According to Muñoz, the Day of Silence is not just about drawing attention to issues facing LGBTQ people, but also helps to highlight the contributions LGBTQ people make in every space they enter. "We don't always notice things until they aren't there," she says.
Especially in places like Colorado Springs, where the evidence of rampant bullying is impossible to miss, the Day of Silence offers LGBTQ youth an important opportunity to push back and carve out space for themselves, though some people and organizations would rather they didn't.
Focus on the Family, based here in Colorado Springs, coordinates an annual event in opposition to the Day of Silence that they call a Day of Dialogue. The event's website reinforces damaging myths about LGBTQ people ranging from the idea that being LGBTQ and being a good Christian are incompatible, to the notion that transgender people are somehow dangerous. Promoting contempt for LGBTQ youth and teaching myths like this to young people can have an enormous impact. In a local climate already shaped by the tragedy of youth suicide, the activism of anti-LGBTQ groups like Focus on the Family does nothing but promote violence against LGBTQ youth — whether it be from their peers or at their own hands.
But activists like Muñoz aren't worried about a handful of anti-LGBTQ groups alone. "Given our current political situation, I'm concerned that the climate for oppressed groups like LGBTQ people will get worse," suggests Muñoz. From anti-LGBTQ rhetoric coming out of the White House to anti-LGBTQ legislation like North Carolina's infamous "bathroom bill" being introduced across the country, Muñoz says she's worried about where things are headed. "I wouldn't be surprised if it gets worse before it gets better."
It's certainly never been easy to be an openly LGBTQ young person in the United States, but today's those young people are facing challenges like never before — and that's exactly why the Day of Silence is so important. LGBTQ youth deserve schools where they can feel safe no matter who they are or how they identify, and until we see that day, they most certainly deserve to be able to join together in silent protest and have their community at their back.
The Day of Silence is being recognized this year on Friday, April 21. The event is being promoted by GLSEN, and those interested in participating can register with them online to receive free resources for the Day of Silence.