Strong voices break the silence
Silence was broken at 7:00 p.m. in Reverchon Park in Dallas last Friday, April 25, coinciding with the National Day of Silence. The Breaking of the Silence event began as both straight and LGBT students ended their days in school quietly protesting harassment and violence against LGBT youth. Nearly 150 were in attendance including support from over 20 local community organizations. Among the attendees was Dr. Steve Mittelstet, President of Richland College in Dallas. The event was organized by the Dallas Chapter of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Youth First Texas.
The Day of Silence this year was in honor and remembrance of Lawrence King, a 15 year-old boy shot in school on February 12 because of his gender expression and sexuality. The guest speaker for the event was Rochelle Evans, a transgendered youth from Fort Worth, who received the Lawrence and Garner Courage Award for standing up to the Fort Worth ISD for her right to present as female. Rochelle received a standing ovation after reading her poem about King entitled Shout.
"The poem by Rochelle was amazing," said Beau Heyen of GLSEN. "In fact, the youth brought so much to the event. However, I feel the true power came in the mere fact that teens and adults, students and community members came together as one voice. To truly create change we have to continue this one voice."
Heyen also spoke to a standing ovation, when he announced that Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert proclaimed April 25, 2008 to be Day of Silence Day in Dallas. The idea for the proclamation came from Heyen, a key organizer in the Breaking of Silence activities, who initiated contact with the Mayor’s office and helped draft the proclamation.
About 15 youth shared their Day of Silence school experiences at the open mic event. Casey Torrey, 17, of Richland Collegiate High School, who quit his job due to harassment for "not being a straight boy," felt the event was needed. "The Day of Silence is an extremely important when it comes to awareness of hate crimes, more specifically GLBTQ hate crimes," Torrey said.
Torrey was completely silent until he left school. "A lot of people questioned why I was silent, and when they did so I showed them an index card explaining my vow of silence." He said most people respected his vow, though one individual sarcastically commented, "Oh! You’re doing that thing for the gay club." He added, "Other than that, teachers were very enthusiastic about the vow of silence."
Beau Heyen, GLSEN
Joshua Sabik, 17, of Allen High School also stayed silent that day from the moment he woke up, until he got home from school. Sabik said, "I went so far as to order my coffee and lunch via post-it note!" Sabik, who has supportive parents, added "The Day of Silence is important not only in that we demonstrate to others the silence faced by many, but that we also reflect on what we can do as individuals to end the silence. However difficult it was for me to be quiet for one day, it will never match the silence kept by others who are harassed and bullied at school."
Judith Dumont, Director of Administration for Youth First Texas, who helped organize the Breaking of Silence Event, said we often forget what it was like to be a youth ourselves. "Many people, gay or straight or trans, simply forget to hold the experiences of GLBTQ youth at the pulse of their everyday experiences. While certain people might not discriminate against this lifestyle, they might forget what it means to walk through the halls of school and hear homophobic remarks...to be called ’faggot’ or ’dyke’ or hear ’that’s so gay.’"
Dumont perhaps clarified the severity of how difficult it is to be a GLBT youth by her comment, "We must remember that every 5 hours a GLBTQ teen successfully commits suicide. One youth is too many to lose, let alone 5 youth a day...this is epidemic."
Dumont would like to see the Breaking of Silence become an annual event and thanked Bank of America for a grant of $5000 to the Youth First Texas Gay Straight Alliance fund, making the event possible.
A similar metro area event called the Night of Noise was held at Bruce Concert Hall at the University of North Texas in Denton for those unable to travel to Dallas. Earlier in the day, about 20 students participated in a peaceful demonstration near the Student Union. Nora Lewis, activities coordinator for the Gay and Lesbian Association of Denton, said "Students held signs that said ’Break the Silence’ and wore black bandanas to cover their mouths." She said that straight allies were there to speak on behalf of those remaining silent.
For more information on the National Day of Silence, see http://www.dayofsilence.org.